The Negative Effects of Media Violence on Children

By Patricia Neill
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One indisputable fact about television: Many television programs show characters behaving violently, and the programs are getting more violent by the year, says a study by the Parents Television Council. The report by PTC showed depictions of violence at certain hours were 134.4 percent more frequent in 2002 than in 1998. From ages 2 to 17, American children watch television 19 hours and 40 minutes a week, according to a Nielsen Media Research report in 2000. This huge exposure to television violence has many adverse effects on the nation's children.

Children More Aggressive as Adults

In 2003, a longitudinal study of over 15 years duration concluded that viewing television violence definitely caused violent behavior in both men and women. Men who watched a lot of television violence as children were more likely to have "pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses." Women who consumed high-TV violence as children were more likely to have "responded to someone who made them mad by shoving, punching, beating or choking the person."

Children More Fearful

The sheer amount of violence depicted on television can make children fearful. Impressionable children may feel that what they see on television is "real life" and thus real life is mean and violent. As violent as modern life can be in America, it cannot compare to the violence on television programs. The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying reports that the fear children feel from watching television violence can be immediate and short-term, but the effects can be long-lasting as well.

Less Sensitive to the Pain of Others

Another effect of TV violence on children is desensitization to the pain and suffering of others. Children also become desensitized toward actual violence. Children who become less sensitive to violence or who identify with the perpetrators of violence have less empathy and are reluctant to help others in need. Researchers also report a loss of trust in others and increased self-protective behaviors in children exposed to excessive television violence.

Imitative Play vs. Imaginative Play

The National Association for the Education of Young Children reports that children viewing televised violence reduce the amount of time they spend in imaginative play. These children are more likely to resort to imitative play, mimicking the aggression they observed on TV. The danger here is that children's imaginative play is directly related to cognitive and language development, thus damaging the child's necessary psychological growth. Ideally, children need creative, imaginative play to express feelings and gain self-control, rather than resorting to violence to deal with anger.