Children are growing up on a constant diet of TV violence. We need to ask ourselves: Is it all just harmless entertainment?
IN AN AVERAGE American home the television set is on more than 6 hours a day. Between the average male's second and sixty-fifth year he will watch over 3,000 full 24-hour days of television — that's almost nine full years of his life. Half of the American population can be found silently watching television during the average weekday winter evening. Television waves saturate Britain. Ninety-nine percent of Britain's population can be reached by TV. In the United States over 97% of all homes have a television set. More than 25% have two or more. More homes have television sets than refrigerators, automobiles, or even bathrooms!
Television Violence Studies
These statistics acquire great significance in the light of recent summary findings contained in a report presented at the American Psychological Association Convention in Washington D.C., prepared in conjunction with the U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory Committee. According to various reports for the committee, there is increasing scientific evidence suggesting that children are using television violence as "a partial guide for their own actions... Such an effect has now been shown in a wide variety of situations." It has already been reported by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence that television violence encourages similar behavior in children of disadvantaged or disorganized families. The Liebert-Baron summary, reported at the American Psychological Convention, shows that normal, average youngsters appear to exhibit similar behavior patterns. "At least under some circumstances, repeated exposure to televised aggression can lead children to accept what hitherto they have seen as a partial guide for their own actions," the two professors stated. Two other recent reports agree with the above findings. One of them, by two University of Wisconsin researchers, agreed that "several recent field studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health appear to indicate some correlation between television violence and the tendencies to behave aggressively." In another federally sponsored study by two Pennsylvania State University professors, the conclusion was that "there are behavioral effects associated with viewing violence... Such viewing has an impact not only on aggressive behavior but also on self control." In view of these and similar findings, it is shocking to find that children and adolescents are the heaviest viewers of this powerful force.
The Omnipresent Television Set
Many preschoolers are practically weaned on TV — spending in some cases more than half of their waking time with eyes glued to the television screen. As a result, television is becoming the new teacher, implanting in tiny children their first and lasting impression of the outside world. 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. 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 his TV diet? In one of the first major British scientific studies inquiring into the impact of television on children, it was found that children favored adult TV programs — especially crime thrillers. The girls, quite unexpectedly, seemed as much interested in crime and detective programs as the boys. Small children particularly liked western shoot-em-ups. Just how violent are these television shows? Many program surveys have been taken to find out how much violence occurs on TV during prime-time television hours (the time when most people, including children, will be watching television). In a Washington, D.C. survey, three major television networks were surveyed to determine how much violence would be viewed in one week between 3:00 p.m. and 11:00. During this span of time there were 113 shootings, 92 stabbings, 168 beatings, 9 stranglings, and 179 other specific acts of violence perpetrated before the television audience. There was one specific act of violence every 17.9 minutes, a killing every 43.8 minutes. Another shocking survey was conducted by the Christian Science Monitor shortly after the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy. In 85½ hours of programming during prime-time television viewing hours, 84 killings were witnessed. Most of the violent incidents occurred between 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. when 26.7 million children between 2 and 17 were viewing television. There was a violent incident every 16.3 minutes and a murder or killing once every 31 minutes! 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 against another. He'll have witnessed thousands of violent crimes and seen countless numbers of belligerent acts. Some social scientists say it doesn't matter. They claim there is no proof that TV violence has any real effect on children. Others say "We need more refined research on the subject." Still another point of view is: "The effectiveness of television in teaching either good or bad is not known." But then why do advertisers spend 2½ billion dollars a year for TV advertising believing that television CAN and DOES influence people?
Not Enough Research?
Dr. Harry J. Skornia, professor of radio and television at the University of Illinois, discussed the research done on the effect of the mass media in the Spring 1970 issue of Better Radio and Television, published by the National Association for Better Broadcasting. He said there have been some five thousand studies in 40 countries on film research alone during the last 50 years. And in the last 10 years the largest number of research projects and experiments have been done specifically for television — more than on any other medium of communication or educational innovation.
The Payne Studies
Some dozen studies into the effects of viewing films on children were conducted between 1929 and 1932 by the Payne Fund. These Payne studies resulted in 10 published volumes by Macmillan in 1935. The studies, just as applicable today, since many of the same kinds of films are now shown on television, measured and recorded the effects of viewing various types of movie films on sleep, social attitude and behavior, emotional responses, standards of morality, and delinquency and crime. One interesting side note of the Payne studies — which also points up how much TV can teach and influence children — was this: "The Payne Fund studies concluded that showing heroes and heroines smoking and drinking in films and programs was probably more effective in promoting these behavior patterns than any such direct or intended approach as commercials or advertising. "In fact, one spokesman for the movie industry at that time boasted that Hollywood movies, with their insistence on showing drinking as socially acceptable and usefully relaxing, was probably more responsible than any other single pressure in bringing about the repeal of prohibition. The example set by respected celebrities provided an important example to the nation of 'what people do.' " In 1961 UNESCO listed 491 studies from the major countries of the world in an annotated international bibliography entitled, The Influence of the Cinema on Children and Adolescents. Nearly a thousand sources were cited either directly or indirectly. The Army, Navy and Air Force have done over 100 carefully documented study projects, revealing the effectiveness of TV and films as an ideal medium for teaching individual physical assault and defense tactics, techniques of violence, and the use of weapons of violence. The Ford Foundation's Fund for the Advancement of Education supported experimental projects in some 800 schools, proving TV's striking effectiveness as compared to any other medium of instruction in teaching virtually any subject in the curriculum to children of various age groups. 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-face 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 of individual teachers (or gangsters) that would be required for conventional teaching." And summing up all the research, which unquestionably shows how effective television is in teaching, Dr. Skornia said, "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."
Results of Laboratory Research
Leading social scientists like Dr. Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford, Dr. Leonard Berkowitz, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, and others, have conducted laboratory experiments specifically for the purpose of evaluating the impact of televised aggression on children. For instance, Dr. Bandura designed a series of experiments using nursery school children averaging 2 years and 3 months of age. The children were divided into four different groups. One group witnessed a real-life adult model kick, punch and beat on the head with a mallet a five-foot Bobo doll. A second group witnessed an adult model beat up the Bobo doll on film. The third group watched a movie, projected through a television console, that also showed an adult model beating up the Bobo doll, but this time the adult was costumed as a cartoon cat. The fourth group (the control group) didn't see any aggressive models. After this viewing, each child was individually taken to a room which contained a Bobo doll, aggressive toys — dart guns and a mallet like the one used by the adult model, and nonaggressive toys — tea sets, crayons, coloring paper, dolls, cars, trucks and plastic farm animals. The children witnessing the adult model attack the Bobo doll — live, on film and on television — showed almost twice as much aggression as the control group. The group seeing the model attack the doll tended to IMITATE the same type of violent aggression. The difference in arousing aggression of the various viewing conditions — live, film, or TV — was negligible. From this experiment two basic conclusions were reached. The experience of seeing violence tended to reduce the child's inhibitions against acting in a violent manner. Secondly, the experience helped shape the form of the child's aggressive behavior. Dr. Leonard Berkowitz and other leading social scientists have reached similar conclusions through their laboratory research. After careful study of all such available research, the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence was moved to warn: "We believe it is reasonable to conclude that a constant diet of violent behavior on television has an adverse effect on human character and attitudes. Violence on television encourages violent forms of behavior, and fosters moral and social values about violence in daily life which are unacceptable in a civilized society." Yet even after all of these test results controversy still rages. A high-level group, the Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, had to be appointed to further investigate the impact of television violence on the behavior of children. The majority of researchers assigned by the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee to investigate the effects of television violence are tentatively reaching the same conclusions — that TV violence encourages violent forms of behavior. Noted researchers J.R. Dominick and Bradely S. Greenberg report in their research, Girls' Attitudes toward Violence as Related to TV Exposure, Family Attitudes, and Social Class (1971), said that: "The greater the 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." Said researchers McLeod, Atkin and Chaffee in Adolescents, Parents, and Television Use (1971), "... the more the child watches violent television fare, the more aggressive he is likely to be as measured by a variety of self-report measures." Dr. Robert M. Liebert, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Dr. Robert A. Baron, Department of Psychology, Purdue University, in a report to the 1971 American Psychological Association Convention, mentioned that sixteen out of eighteen experimental studies from "seven of the eight research teams, present evidence which supports the hypothesis that viewing aggression can instigate subsequent aggression among observers."
TV Violence Is Harmful
But let us ask ourselves some commonsense questions. Do we want our children to murder someone? Or even to learn how to murder someone? Of course not. No normal parent would. Then why allow your child to watch someone else get murdered? Why let your child experience the vicarious participation in a murder on television? Why fill a child's mind — and yours for that matter — with killing and all manner of violence? Said Dr. Frederick Wertham, a psychiatrist who is reputed to be the world's leading authority on human violence, in the October 1962, American Journal of Psychiatry, "The relentless commercialism and the surfeit of brutality, violence and sadism has made a profound impression on susceptible young people. The result is a distortion of natural attitudes in the direction of cynicism, greed, hostility, callousness and insensitivity." Over fifteen years ago Dr. Wertham warned that young people were going to commit more and more serious and violent crimes. He was right. Today there is a spiraling rise of violent crimes committed by young people. There has been a 300% increase in robbery arrests among 10 to 14-year-olds between 1958 and 1970. And more than 50% of all FBI-indexed crime is committed by teenagers under 18. Is there any connection between these facts and our TV viewing habits? The reader can form his own conclusions. It is, however, very dangerous to assume that such a powerful medium as television would have no effect on a very impressionable entity — the human mind. Does all this mean a person should yank the television cord out of the wall socket or take an axe to the TV set? No, not necessarily. The television set of itself is not the problem. It only receives what broadcasters choose to sell and audiences choose to watch. Nor is television the only media source for violence. But it is unquestionably the largest and most influential source. The TV industry cannot be held solely responsible for television violence either. The television industry is very attuned to audience ratings. After all, there does have to be a certain amount of demand for it by the TV audience. Witness those who got so vehemently angry when parts of their favorite shoot-em-up western was pre-empted by an important announcement concerning the American nation. They veritably stormed the network by phone because of it.
What You Can Do
The way to protect your children from watching so much violence on television is to be more selective in the programs YOU watch. Programs that glamorize crime and emphasize illicit sex, cruelty and violence, should obviously be eliminated from your home viewing. Crime and violence should never be accepted as a major theme of a program for children, or even adults for that matter. Along with being selective about what you and your household watch on TV, be sure to watch programs together. Scientific studies show 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 guideline is to limit the amount of television you watch and the amount you allow your children to watch. And most important, don't allow the television set to become your child's baby-sitter, even if it's not violence and wrong programming that he will be watching. Any child who spends two, three or four hours a day sitting passively in front of the TV tube, gawking at a world of make-believe and fantasy is losing vital hours that should be spent learning how to relate and talk to brothers, sisters, playmates, parents, relatives and neighbors. Replace much of 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 your family conversation. Rather than permit the television set to absorb all your leisure time, develop an interest in some constructive hobby. Children need to be encouraged to take up constructive hobbies rather than spend all their time in front of the TV. The more a parent sets the example of having outside interests such as hobbies, the more apt his children will be to develop other interests besides watching TV. 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 children.