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How does television violence affect your child?

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."