Violent Television's Influlence on Children's Behaviour
Concern about children and popular media has a long history. Plato
proposed to ban poets from his ideal republic, because he feared that
their stories about immoral behaviour would corrupt young minds. In
modern times, moral pressure groups have tried to 'protect' children
from popular literature, the music hall, the cinema, comics,
television and 'video nasties'. It's important to see the issue of TV
violence and children's behaviour in a broader social, cultural and
historical context. Why is it such a popular subject? This isn't often
the fate of academic research issues. Well, it may be partly that it's
a convenient scapegoat. Blaming the media can serve to divert
attention from other causes of change, and so claims about the
'effects of television' can be massively exaggerated.
At the same time, we can hardly ignore the fact that TV does feature
aggressive and violent behaviour. One commentator notes that by the
age of 14 the average American child has seen 11,000 murders on TV
(Harris, 1989). In fact, studies have shown that violence is much less
prevalent on British TV than on American TV (Gunter & McAleer, 1990).
However, the type of programme matters: there's more violence in
cartoons than in many other fictional programmes, but children do
discriminate between cartoon violence and more 'realistic' violence.
NeverthelEss, violence is commonplace even on British TV.
There has been a considerable amount of research into
inter-relationships between the viewing of violent films, videos and
TV programmes and aggressive behaviour by the viewers of such
material, in particular the behaviour of children. My words were
carefully chosen in that description. More commonly, research is
framed as being concerned with what are called the 'effects' of
television. This perspective represents the dominant paradigm in TV
research. In its crudest form the relationship between children and
television is portrayed as a matter of single cause and direct effect,
which puts this kind of research firmly in the behaviourist tradition:
based on what's sometimes referred to as the 'magic bullet' theory.
Approaches have become more sophisticated in recent decades, stressing
such complicating factors as the variety of audiences, individual
differences and the importance of 'intervening variables'.
The early survey work in the 1950s by Wilbur Schramm and his
colleagues in the US and by Hilde Himmelweit and her colleagues in
Britain are remarkably cautious compared with many later studies. Both
present children as active agents rather than passive victims, unlike
most of the research in the 1960s. Both Schramm and Himmelweit
suggested that the effects of television violence vary according to
the personal and social characteristics of...