There has been a lot of debate over the impact of media violence on children’s behavior since the advent of mass media. Researches and a lot of studies have been done to find the direct relationship between media violence and child aggressive behavior. Some of the studies have shown a positive relationship while other have shown no relation at all or very minute relation between media and child’s learning and behaving process. But deep insight on the issue makes it clear that those who favor non relation studies are either politically provoked or having unequivocal evidence. The evidence which proves positive relation between media and child aggressive behavior outweigh those which oppose it. In this essay we will briefly discuss about child psychology and it receptiveness to aggressive behavior while at the end we will review the consequences of media violence on children.
As mentioned, first of all we will briefly discuss child psychology in order to grasp the mechanism of child-mind-functioning.
“A young child is a human being who, unlike his elders, is still engaged in the fundamental process of developing the major portion of his mental capacity. At least eighty percent of his intellectual aptitude (not his rote knowledge) is acquired during the first six years of his life. During this critical period, his brain grows and develops in accordance with his exercise of his mind and the intellectual stimulation provided by his environment”1(how children learn, 1962)
As stated above, most of the portion of intellectual aptitude is acquired in early years of childhood. Because this is the stage where brain development and functioning is at its peak. And child unlike adult make cognitive imprints in his brain without any logical and interpretational bounds. The brain in its early stages makes its own knowledge based on environmental factors. It is because the brain has natural learning acquisition device which is an innate pattern seeker and innately motivated to learn. Brain has a limbic system where the most instinctive behavior of human kind is monitored. In early ages this system is too sensitive and prone to slight intense stimulus which if triggered over and over again makes a deep imprint which is unwashable. To achieve some fruitful results from the experiments in 1984 some checklist of questions was prepared which was designed to count the frequency of those people who come to the clinic for psychiatric help are suffering from TLE-related symptoms. TLE stands for temporal lobe epilepsy. Which is a disorder caused due to early adverse experience. Out of 253 patients more than half of them were suffering from TLE. Which is shocking? Shortly, early stages of the childhood are the most important for the short as well as long term behavior of a human being.
Now coming towards the media, first we analyze some statistics about the range of media in the social life of human being. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, (KFF) “two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day”2. This average time spent in front of TV shows media to be an integral part of child’s environment. TV is the best of all environmental factors that can influence a child more than any thing. Because its all motion which grasps great attention. Also it has sound affects to fully speedup brain functioning as music and visual aids together are the most influential factors for learning. Now the question arises that whether media is influencing positively or negatively?
To answer this we have to separate the TV motions i.e. movies commercials and dramas into two categories
1. Those which are healthy for mind and helps to improve the true knowledge about the society and the world. Examples, talk shows, kids programs and mild video games.
2. Those which are adult oriented and kids are mostly unable to grasp the story and moral lesson out of it. Examples movies, music videos, violent video games e.t.c.
Unfortunately the media is oriented in such a dimension that we can not easily differentiate between the two categories and children are drastically victimized.
Now let’s analyze how media violence truly influences child behavior. According to the researches done by psychology professors of the major universities of America:
“Well-supported theory delineates why and when exposure
To media violence increases aggression and violence. Media
Violence produces short-term increases by priming existing
aggressive scripts and cognitions, increasing physiological
arousal, and triggering an automatic tendency to imitate observed
Media violence creates a long term behavioral change in personality which determines the rest of a child’s life. In the article ‘scares that won’t heal’, Martin H. Teicher says that childhood adverse experience can manifest itself at any age. The cycle of this experience can switch between two phases. It can influence internally creating depression, anxiety, tension and suicidal thoughts. While externally it can be expressed as aggression, impulsiveness, delinquency, hyperactivity or substance abuse. Media violence acts as a virus which erodes genuine thought of fraternity out of human society as today’s kids are tomorrow’s citizens.
Is media too violent to be held responsible? To answer this lets analyze the recent surveys:
“Recent surveys reveal an extensive presence of violence in modern media. Furthermore, many children and youth spend an inordinate amount of time consuming violent media”4. With the progress of mass media not only there has been an increase in TV channels but the content that they telecast has also deteriorated. “A September 2000 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report showed that 80 percent of “R” rated movies,70 percent of restricted video games, and 100 percent of music with “explicit content” warning labels were being marketed to children under 17”5. Such a huge mismanagement and distribution of restricted products to specific group (children) is not only illegal but morally disgustful as well. As the child grows up he sees nothing other then an image of a violent world. Which molds his mind in such a way that it’s almost impossible to recover. “By the time the average child is eighteen years old, they will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders” 6.
The statistics shown above only refer media violence as an extreme physical punishment or killing but some researchers have classified the term “violence” into three dimensions after considering their impact on children. And the classification is shocking as they include behavior, thoughts and emotions also. Any violent behavior, violent thought or violent emotions are also included in the definition of media violence. After classifying the term violence to such an extent it seems almost impossible to truly separate the non violent content from the violent one. As in such a rapid growth of showbiz world it is very difficult to categorize the content as children oriented or not and also to make sure that children are strictly looked after not to watch violent contents. To have some practical understanding of this dilemma a documentary has been made to give an explanation to this issue. In this documentary the host meets different psychologists and sociologist to get into the root of the matter. For a practical example he introduces a teenager who has been playing violent video games since his early childhood. And when he has been asked whether he experience any violent behavior or not , he answered “I love to play violent video games but never in my life did I experienced any aggressive behavior which is different from other normal people”. To explain this situation one of the child psychologist argued that violent behavior is not something which can be learned by all those who are exposed to violent content at the same level rather violent behavior is caused by many other factors as well like genetics, family life, society and culture. With this situation an ideal definition of violence is required to balance out both the sides Here follows a summary of the developmental phases of the concept media violence. As early as 1972, Dr George Gerbner, an expert on media violence in the United States defined media violence as follows: “the overt expression of physical force against others or self, or the compelling of action against one's will on pain of being hurt or killed. The expression of injurious or lethal force had to be credible or real in the symbolic terms of the drama. Humorous and even farcical violence can be credible and real, even if it has a
Presumable comic effect. But idle threats, verbal abuse, or comic gestures with any real consequences were not to be considered violent”. This definition of violence is somehow precise and accurate to clarify the current violent content from the non-violent content of the media. Still the media has been increasingly showing unnecessary violent content without any justification. Such rude examples can be seen in the movies.
Whenever movies are discussed nobody leaves a chance to mention Hollywood. Hollywood has been a revolutionary element to promote inter-continental closeness. With its good applications came its negative consequences as well. Due to lack of proper regulation most of the movies are very mind distracting and violent which is not good for children. As the heroes of the movies are depicted in such a way that whatever they do is considered justifiable. Whether they blow the villain’s head with a short gun or crush it with a baseball stick. Heroic attitudes are mostly copied by the kids and in the process of that some dire consequences are encountered. As in the movie ‘jack ass 2’ the characters have performed some stupid stunts for the sake of fun and those stunts were so dangerous that it took lives of two kids who copied them. They were performing the stunt on camera and the video tape has been shown on BBC (Dec 29, 2006).
Other then copying the dangerous stunts kids also experience three major potential responses to media violence which are:
1. Increased fear—also known as the "mean and scary world" syndrome.
This is a disorder which makes the patient terrified about the surrounding. Girls are more prone to this syndrome then boys.
2. Desensitization to real-life violence:
In which cartoons are humorously shown which encourages violence and realistic violent consequences are seldom portrayed.
3. increased aggressive behavior:
This is a more drastic disorder in which kids develop aggressive and alien attitude towards life which is almost unmoldable.
So far we have discussed about child psychology that how a child’s brain is receptive to violence and how badly it affects child’s behavior. We analyzed that children do what they see and they see what the environment shows them. As media is an integral part of child environment as children are spending a lot of time watching TV and playing video games. So violence in media is very influential in aggressive behavioral development of children. Which grows with the age and it’s very difficult to mold those behaviors. So some serious actions should be taken by the policy makers to either reduce the media violence or limit the viewership of those contents before it creates a whole new alienated human society.
By Shah Fahad Ul Mulk