Saturday, July 14, 2012

Television Violence and Children Research Paper

Television Violence and Children Research Paper

Within the scope of this research, one of the most heated social issues that had triggered a lot of controversial responses from different circles will be analyzed – that of TV violence and its potential negative effects on children. There are numerous groups nowadays that aim to regulate and control TV broadcasts in order to reduce the amount of TV violence and prevent children’s access to such programs. However, it is evident that many of those attempts are actually against the Constitutional rights of TV broadcasting companies and program producers, freedom of speech being the most important right at issue here. Moreover, the research on the subject of effects of TV violence on children had resulted in quite contradictory outcomes, to say the least. (Cantor, 2002) After careful analysis of all the facts and research findings, it is apparent that television violence does not effect children; moreover, even if it does, violence on television is protected under the constitution like any other form of free expression, therefore it is up to the parents to censor material they deem as inappropriate.


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There is a widespread opinion that TV violence promotes aggressive behavior among children and leads to youth delinquency. (Johnson, 2002) The defenders of this view suggest that since children watch television a lot of time, their social identity is formed based on the values and attitudes promoted by the broadcasters in their programs. Since a lot of TV programs are filled with violence, those people claim that children are behaving aggressively in order to imitate their favorite characters and to ‘impress’ their peers. (Hughes, 1996) What does violence on network television mean? Does the way violence is portrayed lead viewers to regard violence as a disgusting behavior that unnecessarily harms others while punishing the perpetrator? Or does the context lead viewers to want to imitate those acts? Social cognitive theorists would conclude that the patterns are particularly conducive to a negative effect. Fewer than 20% of all aggressive acts are portrayed as being punished. Perpetrators show remorse for their actions in only about 4% of the acts coded. 79% of all acts are shown with minor or no consequences to the victim. Any person, especially children, watching such acts frequently, may learn that such behavior is not really harmful to victims, and that perpetrators can get away with it easily. (Nader, 1996) Those types of statistics could be cited by rigid censorship defenders; however, when the issue of TV violence and its effect on children is analyzed carefully, it is apparent that negative influenced is actually minimal or nil. (Cantor, 2002)

Since the earliest days of television broadcasting, legislators and industry officials have been debating what to do about the high rates of violence and antisocial behavior on television. This debate has been primarily motivated by a desire to protect children from the ‘negative’ effects of that content. Recently the debate has heated up again, and this time the leading proposals for dealing with the problem are (a) to include devices (the V-chip) on television sets that would block out violent content; (b) to rate and publicly report television violence; and (c) to relegate violent programming to so-called “safe harbors” when children are not a significant portion of the viewing audience. (Hough, 1997)

However, when one considers those restrictions, one should also consider the Constitutional basis for such restriction. The constitutional arguments for and against V-chip, for example, are much like those of ratings proposals, as the V-chip would require someone to rate programs for violence, sex, and strong language in order to determine which shows would be forced to broadcast such a signal. “Industry officials and many observers have argued that such restrictions are a prior restraint that creates a chilling effect on free expression.” (Pease, 1996) Hence, according to press reports on the industry and legal analyses, such a measure would dictate the kinds of shows that may be sold to advertisers and infringes upon the viewing rights of other adults and parents who wish to expose their children to such material (Pease, 1996).

It is evident that parents should be responsible for censorship of the material that they believe is inappropriate for their children; however, due to decreasing family values in American family, many parents are either not capable of controlling their children or simply neglect moral aspect of their growing up and education. This is not the reason to blame broadcasting companies though and seek correlation between TV violence and improper behavior of their children.

Much more serious than the practical considerations that were described above is the political way of defining violence. The formal implementation of any of the ideas that is aimed at preventing children’s access to particular violent materials requires a standard definition of violence. Providing a definition is not an easy task, however. The idea of violence is not a natural, primitive concept on which everyone agrees. Instead, it is a construct; different people have different ways to assemble elements into their definitions.

This is evident in the scientific literature, where there is a range of definitions. The most prevalent definition of television violence, for example, focuses on the act or threat of physical violence (Centerwall, 1999). This definition is limited to only physical acts and overt acts. Even given this relatively narrow definition, Gerbner and his colleagues have found an average of from 4.5 to 6.1 acts of violence per hour of television programming for over 2 decades starting in 1967. A slightly broader version of Gerbner’s definition was used by the National Coalition of Television Violence, which found 9.7 violent acts per hour of U.S. programming. (Centerwall, 1999)

In later work, the researchers used a wider concept of aggression defined as “behavior that inflicts harm, either physically or psychologically, including explicit or implicit threats and nonverbal behavior” and found 18.5 aggressive acts per hour of U.S. and Canadian programming, 9 of which were physical violence. (Zoglin, 1996) This definition allows for the inclusion of intentional acts of aggression that do psychological rather than physical harm to the victim. The scope of their analyses, however, included many behaviors that are not necessarily violent or aggressive (e.g., illicit drug use or sexual behaviors). A direct focus on aggression serves as a balance of different positions.

Any censorship proposal aspired to deal with violence on television must be assessed for their adherence to the Constitution of the United States of America – they should not infringe on the freedom of expression granted by American legislature. Determining how broad the definition should be is not a task for social scientists, but a task for the public. Because a great deal is at stake, the debate over the proper definition will most certainly be political. On one side will be producers and programmers, who will want a very narrow definition. The narrower the definition, the fewer acts targeted for regulation. If violence were defined very, very narrowly to include only serious assaults, there would be minimum restrictions or pressure on the creative community. (Cantor, 2002)

In order to generate inventory for audiences with high percentages of child viewers, programmers need to alter their fundamental notions of content and develop programs with very different contextual patterns. If new programming is not developed, it is likely that programmers will simply shift programs low in physical violence, such as sitcoms (which are very high in symbolic aggression) into time slots when children are watching in large numbers. In this case, aggression would come in the form of verbal-psychological aggression, which might lead to subsequent physical violence. This, however, should be controlled by the parents, who should become ultimate censors of the information that their children are exposed to. By no means should TV broadcasters be accused of something they are not really responsible for and denied their inherent constitutional rights of free speech and expression.
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