Many recent studies have assailed television aggression, violence, and immorality for adversely influencing children. But now, research shows that even adults are definitely affected by television violence. This article describes some of these profoundly significant studies and it also discusses the question, "Is it time to tame television?"
By any measure. whether magnetic appeal. amount of exposure. or power to change behavior. commercial television now wields the major educational impact in the land. Does that sound like a sensational exaggeration? Then ponder these statistics: By the time the average American child reaches adolescence he will have spent twice as many hours watching television as he has sitting behind his school desk. Believe it or not, he'll have had 22,000 hours of television "instruction." as opposed to 11,000 hours worth of school instruction. Even before he reaches age five he will already have spent more time in front of a television than the average student in a liberal arts program spends in the classroom throughout his entire four years of college attendance. And what will make up a child's TV diet? Studies show that children favor adult TV programs - especially crime thrillers. Just how violent are these television shows? In a Washington, D.C. survey, three major television networks were surveyed to determine how much violence would be viewed in one week between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. During this span or time there were 113 stabbings, 92 shootings, 168 beatings, 9 stranglings, and 179 other specific acts of violence perpetrated before the television audience. There was one specific act of violence every 16.9 minutes, a killing every 43.8 minutes. These statistics take on greater significance when you consider that the average American family watches over 6 hours of television every day. By the time the average American child reaches age 14 he will have witnessed the violent destruction of over 13,000 human beings on television His TV diet will have been filled with thousands of bodily assaults of one man or woman against another. He'll have witnessed thousands of violent crimes and seen countless numbers of belligerent acts.
Violence Affects Viewers
Does this steady diet of violence and immorality have an effect on TV viewers? Some social scientists say it doesn't claiming there is no actual proof that TV violence has any real effect on children. Others say. "We need more refined research on the subject." But the fact is that numerous studies have already conclusively established that television does directly influence not only children. but also adults. Dr. Harry J. Skornia, professor of radio and television at the University of Illinois. states that television can have a profound effect on viewers. According to Dr. Skornia. "The most all-encompassing single finding from educational television research has been that in almost all projects there has been 'no significant difference' between what thousands of students learn from TV (often from single teachers or program series) and what they learn from face-to-race conventional teaching. "Thousands of individuals can now learn life-saving (or life-destroying or safe-cracking) as well from TV as they would be able to learn from the thousands or individual teachers (or gangsters) that would be required for conventional teaching." In summing up all the research, which unquestionably shows how effective television is in teaching. Dr. Skornia says. "Judged by those criteria which educators find useful in predicting effectiveness in teaching. the principal characters in westerns. crime and private-eye series. situation comedies, and other popular TV programs would seem to rate fairly high in teaching effectiveness. "There is considerable evidence or danger that what these individuals demonstrate regularly will, by all valid learning theory criteria, be learned. "To believe that all or most of these attractive, admired characters. often using and illustrating techniques of physical violence, revenge, burglary, escape, fighting, and do-it-yourself justice, are unsuccessful as teachers, failing to teach what they demonstrate, is directly at variance with what we know about television's superiority, specifically for demonstration purposes in teaching specific skills and behavior." In the early 1970's noted researchers J. R. Dominick and Bradely S. Greenberg studied youth attitudes toward violence as related to TV exposure. They found that "the greater level of exposure to TV violence, the more the child was willing to use violence, to suggest it as a solution to conflict, and to perceive it as effective." In another study, F. B. Steuer and a team at the University of North Carolina, compared the aggressive behavior of nursery school children matched in pairs according to how much television they ordinarily watched. One member from each pair was shown an aggressive TV show on 11 different days, taken from among those ordinarily broadcast on Saturday mornings. The other member of the pair saw a non aggressive show on the same days. Afterward, the children were observed during natural play. In every pair of matched children, the child who had viewed the violent show had become more aggressive than his partner!
An even more disturbing conclusion was found in a recent study by researchers Ronald Drabman of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and Margaret Hanratty Thomas of Florida Technological University in Orlando. They found that violence on TV directly contributed to giving children a head start on the apathy that has grown to such scandalous proportions in the adult population of society. In three separate experiments, they found that "exposure to TV violence can increase normal children's toleration of real-life aggression. "These studies provide strong evidence that continued exposure to TV violence is teaching children to accept aggression as a way of life," the researchers stated. If TV is teaching some to become more violent while others are learning to tolerate their aggression, "a future society in which virtually all adults have been exposed to a continued deluge of violence since infancy could well be an unfortunate place to live." Many scientists are convinced the cause-and-effect relationship in children has been well established. " But remember," points out Dr. Fredric Wertham, "children grow up to be adults, incorporating into their psyches the thousands of hours of television they saw in their youth."
Adults Also Affected
Indeed, new recent research is now establishing that it is not only impressionable children that are adversely influenced by TV programming. Scientists are now finding evidence that television is also directly pushing adults toward aggressive behavior. The results of a University of California study "are especially important." says researcher Dr. Roderick Gorney, "because adults, after all, are the ones who are making decisions. declaring war, voting for president, putting additives in our food." Dr. Gorney and other researchers are finding indications that excessive viewing of crime and violence shows (they constitute 30 percent of prime-time TV) apparently can stimulate aggressive behavior in adults and can also develop in them a distorted view of how dangerous the world really is. The adults in the test group that were presented with a constant diet of violence on TV rated themselves as increasingly more hostile and aggressive in mood as time passed. They also were observed to be acting more aggressively toward their families and associates, and they were less tolerant of minor frustrations, By contrast, those exposed to TV programs encouraging beneficence and humanitarianism generally became more charitable in mood and actions.
Distorted View of Reality
Dr. George Gerbner, dean or the Annenberg School or Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that his research shows that constant viewers of television believe there is a 50-50 chance of being involved in a violent incident in any given week. In actual fact, says Gerbner, the statistics are one in 100, but the viewers' distorted ideas about the world came from their immersion in the TV world of muggings, violence, and murder. Does all this mean a person should yank his television cord out of the wall socket or take an ax to his TV set? No, television is a technological and social phenomenon that's here to stay, and we need to make the best use of it. The television set of itself is not the problem, it only receives what broadcasters choose to sell and audiences choose to watch. Nor is the television the only media source of violence and immorality. But it is unquestionably the largest and most influential source.
What You Can Do
The way to protect you and/or your children from being adversely affected by television is to be more selective of the programs you watch. Where television is actively promoting values, thoughts, and mores which are alien to your home, you will have to exercise parental authority. Take the time to select better quality programs for family viewing. Don't always assume that children are only interested in the lowest level of cartoon pap or violence. Programs that glamorize crime and emphasize illicit sex, cruelty, and violence should obviously be minimized if not eliminated from your TV diet. Along with being selective about what you and your household watch on TV, be sure to watch programs together. Scientific studies show how it's actually best if parents watch TV with their children, especially small children. When parents watch television with their children and comment on fallacies or wrong actions which sometimes creep into "good" programs, the effect of these fallacies and wrong actions on children is minimized. Remember, many so-called family programs are filled with various forms of rebellion, disrespect for authority, and lying. Children should not be allowed to assume that this sort of conduct is acceptable. Another important television viewing guide line is to limit the amount of television you watch and the amount you allow your children to watch. Anyone who spends four, five or six hours a day sitting passively in front of the TV tube watching a world of make-believe and fantasy is probably losing vital hours that should be spent learning how to relate and talk to husband, wife, brothers, sisters, playmates, parents, relatives, and neighbors. You should replace much of your TV viewing with family interests. What happened, for example, to the good "old-fashioned" family get-together where family members simply talked - sharing interests, ideas, needs, desires, thoughts on current world events, happenings at school, work, or the neighborhood? Don't let television stifle or replace your family conversation. Rather than permit the television set to absorb all your leisure time, develop an interest in some constructive hobby. Children also need to be encouraged to take up constructive hobbies rather than spending all their time in front of the TV. With teen-agers, respect is the key. If you show an interest in what your older children want to watch, you should find some common ground, later, for discussion. Often teen-agers are interested in the same programs as adults, and watching the same programs may be one of the easiest things a parent can do with his adolescent children. Yet, the more a parent sets the example of having outside interests, the more apt his children will be to develop other interests besides watching TV. Yes, it is time to tame the influence of television. Take the necessary first step by turning the television set off earlier and utilizing the needed initiative and thought to develop more interests for you and your family.
ARE YOU A TV ADDICT?
Nicholas Johnson, former head of the FCC, recently suggested, with a wee bit of facetiousness, that television could be as addictive as alcohol. He offers this list of ten questions which will help you to determine if you are already addicted to television: 1. Do YOU turn down the set when you answer the phone so the caller won't know you're watching television? 2. Do you stay up late watching television, but can't remember the next morning what you saw? 3. Do you have to watch a television program as soon as you get up in the morning? 4. Do you suddenly find that you have watched several television programs in a row without thinking about it? 5. When you have visitors, do you find it impossible to turn off the set or to carry on a conversation without continuing to watch? 6. If unexpected visitors come, do you rush to turn the channel to a "better" program? 7. Did you refuse a social engagement because you didn't want to miss a program, but were ashamed to tell anyone that was the reason? 8. If you try to go through an evening without television, do you become nervous and irritable? Do you have trouble figuring out what to do with your eyes? 9. When other people say you're watching too much television, do you become defensive? 10. Do you find yourself saying, "I never watch TV, but I just happened to turn the set on the other night and...."
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TELEVISION VIEWING
Like many activities, television viewing should be evaluated in terms of benefits Vs. shortcomings. To summarily unplug the set would probably deprive you or your family or many well done and valuable programs. Yet an uncritical indulgence in extensive TV viewing may also be unwise, depriving you of precious time that could profitably be spent in other pursuits. In deciding how much TV to watch, it is good to scan the television listings for the coming week and mark those programs that seem particularly interesting - ahead of time. Of course, in some cases, a final evaluation cannot be made until the program begins, but basically, the following criteria should be helpful:
1. Does The program encourage worthwhile ideals, values, and beliefs? Does it uphold acceptable standards of behavior, promoting moral and spiritual values and respect for law, decency, and service? Or instead does it glamorize crime, immorality, intolerance, greed, or cruelty? Does it encourage bad taste, false standards of material success, or personal vanity? 2. Does the program stimulate constructive activities? Does it encourage you to learn more, to do something constructive, to be creative, to solve problems, to work and to live with others? Or does it glamorize violence, theft, robbery, smuggling, and other crime? Does it, at least by example, teach that problems are (or should) be solved by brute force? 3. Finally, ask yourself, "Honestly, is watching this particular program the best use of my (or my family's) time?" Granted, watching TV can be relaxing; and it certainly requires little or no effort on your part. But is a large investment of time in TV viewing consistent with other goals and aspirations you have? Would the time be better utilized in recreation, in hobbies, in reading, or even in family conversation.