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Is Violent Television Viewing Harmful for Children?

Approximately one thousand reports and studies have been done, since 1955, regarding the impact of television violence on children (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 1). The American Psychological Association came to the conclusion, in 1992, that there is a strong correlation between television violence watched and the behavior of children that can have long lasting effects (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 1). The following information will present the findings and attitudes of several studies that have been performed and looked into as to answer the question, Is Violent Television Viewing Harmful for Children?

Countless other organizations have followed the same theory and have come to similar findings. Such organizations as the American Medical Association, National Institutes of Mental Health, and the United States Centers For Disease Control (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 2). One important study done by Dr. Leonard D. Eron followed a group of young people for twenty two years. He found that children who watched more television at eight years of age, at thirty years were more likely to have committed crime, act aggressively when drinking, and punish their kids more harshly (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 3). Another study done by psychologists L. Rowell Huesman, Jessica Moise-Titus and Cheryl-Lynn Podoski from the University of Michigan studied five hundred and fifty seven children from the ages of six to ten in 1977. In the follow up study, of the people who were then in their twenties, research showed that men, who were television violence viewers as children, were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved spouses, responded to an insult physically and to have been convicted of a crime (Partenheimer, 2003, Method Section, Para. 2). The men who were convicted of a crime were over three times the rate of other men (Partenheimer, 2003, Method Section, Para. 3). The women who watched more violent television were more likely to have responded to someone who made them mad by shoving, punching, beating or choking and to have committed some type of criminal act that showed four times more than the rate of other women (Partenheimer, 2003, Method Section, Para 4). Also, another important study done by epidemiologist Brandon Centerwall, who surveyed young male felons in prison for violent crimes, found that one fourth to one third of the inmates said they have imitated crimes they have seen on television (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 4). Research has also shown that the negative effects of the time in front of the television disappear when other factors are included such as IQ and socioeconomic status (Gosaline, 2005, Method Section, Para. 3). Three new studies have came to the conclusion that too much time in front of the television reduces the child’s learning abilities, academic achievement, and the likelihood of them graduating from university (Gosaline, 2005, Method Section, Para. 5). Researcher Robert Hancox studied 1000 children born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972 and 1973 (Gosline, 2005, Method Section, Para. 4). He gathered information at ages 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15 and then reevaluated them at age twenty six (Gosaline, 2005, Method Section, Para. 4). He found that kids who watched the least amount of television by age twenty six were more likely to graduate from university than the children who watched more than three hours a day, who has the highest chances of dropping out (Gosaline, 2005, Method Section, Para. 5). Also, Dina Borzekowski, at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that children in Northern California, about eight years of age, with a television in their bedroom, performed worse on standardized tests than kids without a television in the bedroom (Gosaline, 2005, Methos Section, Para. 7).

In laboratory studies that have been done, it was discovered that media violence has an “aggressor effect” (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 5). Children, who watch violent television, act more aggressively immediately after the show (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 5). The conclusion, of a fifteen year study, of 329 youth, that was published in the March issue of Developmental Psychology (APA), said that children’s viewing of violent television shows, that influence them to identify their aggression with same sex characters and their perceptions that television violence is realistic, all are linked to later aggression as young adults (Tepperman, 1997, Method Section, Para. 15). Habitual early exposure to television violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression (Partenheimer, 2003, Method Section, Para. 4). Another study concluded that by viewing extensive violence it may lead to decreased sensitivity to violence, a term called desensitization and a greater willingness to tolerate increasing levels of violence in society (Murray, 2001, Method Section, Para. 2).

Also, “It’s not the amount of television watched, but the content,” says Ariel Chernin and Deborah Linebarger at University Of Pennsylvania (Gosaline, 2005, Method Section, Para. 10). Studies also shown by George Gerbner at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that children’s television shows contain about twenty violent acts each hour, even the shows that have the roadrunner in it have acts of violence that most people wouldn’t realize (Abelard, 1999, Method Section, Para. 1).

The amount of television being watched by children today is remarkably high. This trend is generally uniformed globally. A recent study was completed and the results showed that in urban and rural areas of 23 countries, 93% of school-aged children spend more than half their free time watching television. For example, in England, research showed that 46% of children contained a television in their room and 43% of parents supervise their children and the programs they are watching (Browne, Hamilton, Lancet, 2005).

There is also research showing that in Canada an average child ages 2-11 years old watches approximately 14 hours of television per week. This is equal to the child spending over half of one whole day in front of the television set. An average child ages 12-17 years old spends approximately 14.8 hours per week, equivalent again, to over half a day, in front of the television (Stats Canada, 2005). Other recent studies show that a child will have watched approximately seven to ten years of television by the time they are 70 years old (Steele, 2005). Clearly, these statistics show us that the high amounts of television viewing by children have effects on their growth and development.

There is a greater amount of emphasis being placed upon the amount of violence in children’s television programs. In the US National Television Violence Study, results showed that approximately 61% of television programs contained violence but only 4% of these had a non-violent subject. This study also showed that violence was enacted in realistic setting programs 55% of the time but in 45% of these programs, the person acting in violence went without punishment (Browne, Hamilton, Lancet, 2005). An example of this type of show is ‘Malcolm in the Middle’. This program is set in a typical household, with 2 parents and 4 children. Although children may not see or fully understand the violence displayed in the show, if you look closely, you will discover that there are many levels of violence portrayed. The mother is verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive to the children. She doesn’t act like the nurturing motherly figure that a child needs to successfully develop. The siblings demonstrate acts of physical and verbal violence toward each other consistently. Children who are exposed to this type of show may demonstrate the types of violent acts that their sub-conscious mind is taking in; therefore, they do not comprehend the harm that it portrays.

Over recent years, more attention has been given to protagonist characters committing violence, in the name of good. (Dittmann (2003) Childhood exposure to televised violence may predict aggressive behavior in adults). An example of this is Bugs Bunny, a beloved character in children’s television programs. In episodes of The Bugs Bunny Show, children are subjected to Bugs’ crazy antics in which he picks on and harms other characters. In no way are his violent acts punished. Quite the contrary, Bug’s acts of violence are seen to be funny, and as long as he’s hurting the antagonist, his violence is accepted, and seen in a comical light. This message is further pronounced in new shows such as The Simpson’s, or Power Rangers. With the Simpson’s, punishment is very rarely given to the violent offenders, and again the violence is seen as entertaining and funny. In regards to The Power Rangers, violence is not seen as funny, but is giving the message to children that as long as violence is towards a bad guy, it’s okay ((2005) How T.V affects your child). Messages like these are particularly harmful to children who are between the ages of 2 and 7, when the distinction between fantasy and reality is skewed ((2005) How T.V affects your child). Violence portrayed in a positive light can have a deeper effect than bloody gory violence. (Dittmann (2003) Childhood exposure to televised violence may predict aggressive behavior in adults)

Another issue raised recently is the effects on real-life violence and children. During September 11th, many parents were concerned for their children’s well being, however workshop research found that fear and anxiety levels about violence were higher in June of 2000 than right after the terrorist attacks in September (Smith (2003) Everyday fears trump worries about terrorism). Attention and reassurance was given in the event of the terrorist attacks, but not on everyday violence fears children have in regards to bullies and television violence. Susan Royer had this to say; “When things are ‘normal,’ children seem to feel most alone and helpless in their fear, and unlike Code Orange times, parents can be clueless about kids’ anxiety” (Smith (2003) Everyday fears trump worries about terrorism (para12)). Parents need to remember that all violence seen by a child, real or not, can affect them greatly. Children also hide their fears from their parents as to not burden them, so parents may never know their child(s) is scared or anxious. (Smith (2003) Everyday fears trump worries about terrorism).

Programs have been set up to encourage both parents and children to talk about non-violent ways to deal with anger. One of these campaigns is Adults and Children Together Against Violence (ACT). ACT is a project that focuses on adults with close contact with children ages 0 to 8. It helps these adults (teachers, parents, and care providers) to become positive role models so children can learn how to deal with conflict. ACT is one of the only programs that deal with this critical age group to prevent violent behavior and promote positive attitudes ((2005) Adults and Children Together Against Violence). A very popular show among children is The Simpson’s. Research was done on an episode of The Simpson’s by one of the team members. Statistics were taken as to how many times a violent act occurred, what was done about it, and the light it was presented in. All together there were 6 violent actions, all of which had the message of being funny, and not once was someone punished for their violent acts. These acts included, a homeless man being kicked, a child being held under water by their head, a child being punched, a child being pushed out of a tree, breaking their leg (at which the other children laughed at) a cat being chopped into tiny bloody parts by a mouse with large knives, and an old man being caught on fire. All these violent and crude acts were shown in all of half an hour program.

Can we predict what effects television violence on children in the future? According to some researchers, “the amount of violence on television in the future will remain about the same as it has been” (Pearl, 1987, p.114). The do not want total elimination on violence on television. “The concern is more with the kinds of violence, who commits violence, and who is victimized” (p.114). Studies have shown that excessive viewing of television violence can lean to children to become more aggressive.

The effect of television on social behavior, especially on the behavior of children, will continue to be an area of shared concern for the general public, its elected representatives, and the scientific community. Pearl stated, “Television will remain a violent form of entertainment” (p. 107). Watching television influences children’s attitudes. “Over the past 10 years, there has also been more violence on children’s weekend programs than on prime-time television” (p.107).

Televised violence might influence children’s social values and beliefs about society. The ill effects of viewing television violence may occur over a long period and may grow slowly in magnitude. Comstock, Chaffee, Katzman, McCombs, and Roberts (1978) suggested that “it is also reasonable to be skeptical about any reduction of television’s contributions to social aggression that may result from a policy such as family viewing” (p. 472). “It may reduce violence, but it is not clear that such reduction is either sufficient in quality or in the effect on the character of the remaining violence to markedly deter and undesired effects” (p.472).

J. Ledingham, A. Ledingham, and Richardson (1993) said that “adults can have a very significant effect on what children learn from television and how they react to it” (p. 10). They emphasized, parents can serve as models, gatekeepers, and interpreters for television and other important aspects of their children’s lives” (p. 10). Parents can limit the time the types of programs children watch on television. They can let children get more involved in other activities such as reading, playing, and outside sports. When children are watch television, parents should make sure they know what their children are watching. Parents should watch television with their children and take the time to answer their questions.

The television industry should avoid the use of violence in programming for preschool age children. Violence is not necessary to attract their attention and has been shown to increase their level of aggression. The industry should instead provide entertainment programming in which life’s problems are not simply and quickly solved with violent action. Ledingham reported that “encouraging the development of pre-social programming appears to be important as a means of fostering attitudes and behavior that are incompatible with aggression” (p. 14). “One strong recommendation for action is that information packages be designed for the use of teachers and parents describing what they can do to counter the effects of television violence on children” (p. 14). They suggested that these packages could be distributed through local schools, community groups, and treatment gencies. There are also certain groups of children who may be especially vulnerable to the effects of violent television, beyond the developmental considerations that have been raised here. These include:

1. Children from minority and immigrant groups (1): These children are particularly vulnerable because they tend to watch a great deal of television. Immigrant children may watch entertainment programs with the intent of learning more about the culture of their new country. Children from minority groups may not see many actors from their own culture represented, and those that they do see may be presented in a stereotyped or devalued way (for example, a member of a minority group being presented as the "bad guy"). A particular concern in Canada is the potential of television to "homogenize" cultures in a way that undermines cultural values.

2. Children who are emotionally disturbed or who have learning disabilities (2): These children may also watch a great deal of television and may prefer violent programs. They are more likely than other children to perceive television content as accurately reflecting the real world, and they may identify with violent characters.

3. Children who are abused by parents (3): Abused children watch more television than other children do, prefer violent programs, and appear to admire violent heroes. Children who are both abused and watchers of a great deal of television are likely to commit violent crimes later in life.

4. Families in distress (4): Children whose families are under high levels of stress may receive less parental mediation of their television viewing and less support from their parents than other children do.

Endnotes 1See, for example, Berry and Mitchell-Kernan, 1982; Granzberg, 1985; Greenberg, 1986; and Zohoori, 1988. 2See Sprafkin et al., 1992, for an extensive review. 3See Donohue et al., 1988; and Heath et al., 1986. 4See, for example, Henggeler et al., 1991; Tangney, 1988; and Tangney and Feshbach, 1988. Some helpful hints or suggestions presented to try and decrease the likelihood of a child being violent from the viewing of violent television are as simple as paying attention to the programs their children are watching and watching them with their children, not only will you be able to see what their children seem to be interested in, but to spend valuable time with your children and offer your support. By pointing out the difference between make believe and reality, disapprove of the violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to resolve a problem to offset peer pressure among friends and classmates, contact other parents and agree to enforce similar rules about the length of time and type of program the children may watch. And, by setting limits to how much television a child may watch within their daily routine.

In conclusion, there is much presented evidence that the viewing of violence on television is detrimental and can (although not always) effect the way that children develop. Such evidence proves that violent tendencies are present due to early predisposition of violent acts from viewing television programs that contain violence. Whether it is the “good guy” getting the “bad guy” in shows like power rangers or for comedic relief such as the Simpson’s, there are forms of violence in over 61% of television programs (Browne, Hamilton, Lancet, 2005). Even with the number of studies that have been presented and the overwhelming amount of similarity in the results we cannot simply cut all the violence from television.

We, ourselves need to make sure that children understand the severity of the effects television violence plays on our youth. We need to do what we can to prevent the situation from growing and/or continuing to be such a serious factor in child development.

Works Cited Abeland. (1999). Children and Television Violence. 1 (2).

Gosline, Anna. (2005). Watching TV Harms Kids’ Academic Success. News Service. (11).

Murray, John. (2001). TV Violence and Brainmapping in Children. Psychiatric Times 18 (10).

Partenheimer, David. (2003). Childhood Exposure To Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According To A New 15-Year Study. APA Press Releases. (9)

Tepperman, Jean. (1997). Toxic Lessons : What Do Children Learn From Media Violence? Children’s Advocate Magazine. (21). Smith, D (2003). Everyday fear trumps worries about terrorism [Electronic version]. APA Online, 34 (5), 22.

Browne, K. & Hamilton, C. (2005). The influence of violent media on children and adolescents: a public - health approach. Lancet, 365, 702-710.

Statistics Canada (2005, March). Television Viewing: data tables. Retrieved November 29, 2005, from

Steele, R. (2005). Do Our Kids Watch Too Much TV? Parenting i-village. Retrieved November 29, 2005, from,,9jwv,00.html

Dittmann, M (2003). Childhood exposure to televised violence may predict aggressive behavior in adults [Electronic version]. APA Online, 34 (5), 13. Comstock, George, et al. Television and Human Behavior. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978

Ledingham, Jane, et al. The Effects of Media Violence on Children. Ottawa, Ontario: Health and Welfare Canada, 1993.

Pearl, David. “Violence and Television.” Television in Society. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1987.

Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Initially presented information by Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages, conclusion prepared by Wendy L. Josephson, Ph.D. ,for the Department of Canadian Heritage, February 1995.