“Monkey see, monkey do” has become a well-known saying in today’s society, but is it correct? Just sixty years ago the invention of the television was viewed as a technological curiosity with black and white ghost-like figures on a screen so small hardly anyone could see them. Today that curiosity has become a constant companion to many, mainly children. From reporting the news and persuading us to buy certain products, to providing programs that depict violence, television has all but replaced written material. Unfortunately, it is these violent programs that are endangering our present-day society.
Violent images on television, as well as in the movies, have inspired people to set spouses on fire in their beds, lie down in the middle of highways, extort money by placing bombs in airplanes, rape, steal, murder, and commit numerous other shootings and assaults. Over 1,000 case studies have proven that media violence can have negative affects on children as well. It increases aggressiveness and anti-social behavior, makes them less sensitive to violence and to victims of violence, and it increases their appetite for more violence in entertainment and in real life.
Media violence is especially damaging to young children, age 8 and under1, because they cannot tell the difference between real life and fantasy. Violent images on television and in movies may seem real to these children and sometimes viewing these images can even traumatize them. Despite the negative effects media violence has been known to generate, no drastic changes have been made to deal with this problem that seems to be getting worse. We, as a whole, have glorified this violence so much that movies such as “Natural Born Killers” and television shows such as “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” are viewed as normal, everyday entertainment.
It’s even rare now to find a children’s cartoon that does not depict some type of violence or comedic aggression. What we do not realize though, is that it is the children that are ending up with problems. Unlike most rational, educated adults, many children are gradually beginning to accept violence as a way to solve problems and are imitating what they observe on television. These children do not understand that the violence is shown strictly because the public wants to see it. They cannot grasp the meaning of “ratings” and “entertainment” as well as adults can.
All they know is, “if the TV portrays violence as cool, then it must be cool! ” The problem isn’t the violence in the media though; it is the media’s failure to show the consequences of violence. This is especially true of cartoons, toy commercials, and music videos. Children often do not realize that it hurts to hit someone else because they see it all the time on TV. Everyday a cartoon character is beat up, injured, or killed, only to return in the very next episode, good as new. As a result, children learn that there are few, if any repercussions for committing violent acts.
Unfortunately, as long as there is an extremely high public demand for violent shows and movies, the media is going to continue on the same path. And because it looks as though the “violence craze” is going to continue for some time, we need to be dependent on parents to reduce the effect that media violence has on children, which can be done in so many different ways. First, parents should limit the amount of television children watch per day from the average 3 to 4 hours, which is double the amount of recommended hours, to 1 to 2 hours.
Children are exposed to far too much violence every day on TV, mainly because parents see the TV as a convenient babysitter. By limiting the amount of time spent in front of the “tube,” parents will compel their children to do something more productive like reading a book or playing outside. In limiting TV time, parents also need to monitor what programs their children are watching and restrict the viewing of violent programs. Just because a child is not watching as much violence, does not mean he or she still can’t be influenced by it.
Parents should also make a greater effort to better develop their children’s media literacy skills. They need to help children to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Without proper instruction, children often have a hard time drawing the line between what is real and what is make-believe. With this education, parents should teach their children that real-life violence has consequences, in that pain is real and death is permanent. They need to understand that weapons and other acts of violence can inflict serious and life-long injuries.
This education can be done simply by watching television with children and discussing the violent acts and images that are portrayed. They should ask children to think about what would happen in real life if the same type of violent act were committed. Would anyone die or go to jail? Would anyone be sad? Would the violence solve problems or create them? Just asking children how they feel after watching a violent TV show, movie, or music video is enough to move them from their innocent dream world into reality. Finally the easiest and most simple way to keep children away from excessive media violence is to teach them alternatives to violence.
Parents should not be so quick to let their children plop down in front of a TV set. They should interest their children with something much more productive and exciting to do. However this task is completed, it is important for children to be given the proper support in dealing with issues of violence. If not, they could end up like one of the thousands of criminals sent to prisons and on death row for mindless and unnecessary acts of violence. We are bombarded continually with images of violence, brutality, and sexual immortality.
When children, teen-agers, and adults all mindlessly automatically imitate and follow the leader, it is hard to believe that there are so many non-aggressive and non-violent people in the world. The reason for this is education. We, as a humane society, learn in the early years of our life that violence is wrong. It is important for this education to continue with each passing generation. Mass media can have a very negative effect on children, but with the support of parents and a little control, the television can be turned into a beneficial tool rather than negative impact.