Backgrounds & Polka Dot Backgrounds

Monday, October 11, 2010

Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages

Children of different ages watch and understand television in different ways, depending on the length of their attention spans, the ways in which they process information, the amount of mental effort they invest, and their own life experiences. These variables must all be examined to gain an understanding of how television violence affects them.

Infants (children up to 18 months old) can pay attention to an operating television set for short periods of time, but the attention demands a great effort and infants are usually more interested in their own activities. Even when they do pay attention to the television, infants likely miss most of what adults consider to be program content. They experience it primarily as fragmented displays of light and sound, which they are only intermittently able to group into meaningful combinations such as recognizable human or animal characters.

No research has focused specifically on how violent content affects infants, but there is some evidence that infants can imitate behaviour from television when that behaviour is presented in a simple, uncluttered and instructional manner.

Children do not become full-fledged "viewers" until around the age of two-and-a-half. As toddlers, they begin to pay more attention to the television set when it is on, and they develop a limited ability to extract meaning from television content. They are likely to imitate what they see and hear on television.

The viewing patterns children establish as toddlers will influence their viewing habits throughout their lives. Since toddlers have a strong preference for cartoons and other programs that have characters who move fast, there is considerable likelihood that they will be exposed to large amounts of violence.

At the preschool age (three to five years old), children begin watching television with an "exploration" approach. They actively search for meaning in the content, but are still especially attracted to vivid production features, such as rapid character movement, rapid changes of scene, and intense or unexpected sights and sounds.

Because television violence is accompanied by vivid production features, preschoolers are predisposed to seek out and pay attention to violence—particularly cartoon violence. It is not the violence itself that makes the cartoons attractive to preschoolers, but the accompanying vivid production features. With this preference for cartoons, preschoolers are being exposed to a large number of violent acts in their viewing day. Moreover, they are unlikely to be able to put the violence in context, since they are likely to miss any subtlety conveyed mitigating information concerning motivation and consequences. Preschoolers behave more aggressively than usual in their play after watching any high-action exciting television content, but especially after watching violent television.

Elementary school age (ages six to eleven) is considered a critical period for understanding the effects of television on aggression. At this stage, children develop the attention span and cognitive ability to follow continuous plots, to make inferences about implicit content, and to recognize motivations and consequences to characters' actions. However, they are also investing increasingly less mental effort overall in their viewing, and it is mental effort that determines whether children will process television information deeply or merely react to it in an unfocused, superficial way.

By age eight, children are more likely to be sensitive to important moderating influences of television content, and will not become more aggressive themselves if the violence they see is portrayed as evil, as causing human suffering, or as resulting in punishment or disapproval. However, they are especially likely to show increased aggression from watching violent television if they believe the violence reflects real life, if they identify with a violent hero (as boys often do), or if they engage in aggressive fantasies.

At ages 6 to 11, elementary school children still watch cartoons but also begin watching more adult or family-oriented programming than they did when they were younger. They also develop a surprising taste for horror movies, perhaps deliberately scaring themselves in an attempt to overcome their own fears. However, to the extent that they are desensitizing themselves to fear and violence, they are also very likely becoming more tolerant of violence in the real world.

During adolescence (age 12 to 17), the middle school to high school years, children become capable of high levels of abstract thought and reasoning, although they rarely use these abilities when watching television, continuing to invest little mental effort. They watch less television than they did when they were younger, and watch less with their families. Their interests at this age tend to revolve around independence, sex and romance, and they develop a preference for music videos, horror movies, and (boys particularly) pornographic videos, which deal with these topics, although usually in negative ways.

Adolescents in middle school and high school are much more likely than younger children to doubt the reality of television content and much less likely to identify with television characters. The small percentage of those who continue to believe in the reality of television and to identify with its violent heroes are the ones likely to be more aggressive, especially if they continue to fantasize about aggressive-heroic themes.

Their superior abstract reasoning abilities and their tendency at this age to challenge conventional authority make adolescents particularly susceptible to imitating some kinds of television violence, crime and portrayals of suicide. However, these imitative acts affect only a small percentage of adolescents.

In a world in which violent television is pervasive and children are susceptible to its effects, parents are the best mediators of their children's viewing.

There are a number of ways parents can limit their children's exposure to violence. Restricting the amount and types of programs children watch is probably the most effective and common means of mediation for children of all ages. However, there are also strategies that are specifically appropriate for children at different ages.

Under normal conditions, parents probably do not need to worry too much about their infants being negatively influenced by television, although they might want to limit their exposure to violence or other portrayals it might be dangerous for an infant to imitate.

Limiting exposure to this kind of TV content is especially wise with toddlers, who are even more prone to imitating what they see on television. Another highly influential action parents can take for toddlers is to examine and regulate their own viewing behaviour, since toddlers are highly influenced by their parents' viewing habits.

Parental mediation to reduce a preschooler's aggression (as well as fears from what they see on television) can include viewing with the child, commenting on content, providing distraction or comfort if the child is frightened, and encouraging or discouraging behaviour they see preschoolers imitating from television.

While restricting viewing is an effective form of parental mediation for younger elementary school aged children, for older children it is more useful for parents to discuss, explain, and challenge television. By doing so, parents can help their children to interpret television material and overcome the effect televised violence has on their attitudes and behaviour. Another positive effect of these strategies is that children invest more mental effort in their watching, becoming more critical and analytical viewers.

Encouraging adolescents to express their opinions and to analyze and question television content is a parental strategy that has been found to reduce adolescents' fears and aggressiveness, as well as to improve their critical approach to the medium.

There is an unfortunate lack of non-violent educational and entertaining programming specifically geared to children. It would not be a difficult challenge to come up with non-violent programming, since it is not the violence itself that attracts viewers. The television industry would do well to create programming specifically aimed at child audiences, taking into account the various approaches to watching television and the interests of each age group.

Although toddlers do not understand a great deal of program content, creating educational programming using such features as animation, children's or women's voices on the sound track, and simplified movements and camera work will likely win them as loyal viewers. A habit of watching educational programs (as opposed to cartoons) will reduce their exposure to violent content and make it more likely that they will watch and benefit from educational television later on, as preschoolers.

For preschoolers, effective programming would include the use of vivid production features and "child-directed speech" (simple sentences spoken slowly, referring to objects that are actually being shown on the screen, and with repetition). These features will improve their attention and understanding and can be used to highlight important features of program content, such as critical plot events.

The elementary school-aged audience has been called the "almost forgotten group" when it comes to targeted programming. Such programming could easily avoid violence, since children at this age are still more attracted to variability and tempo than to violence. Although boys, particularly, seek out male heroes who tend to be violent, it is actually the hero's power (not the violence) that is the attraction. Strong, yet positive, counterstereotypical television characters could be created to fit the bill, since these have proven to equally attract their interest, as effectively as violent heroes.

Programming for adolescents should avoid promoting rape myths and portraying violent behaviour that promises fun, "kicks," or instant notoriety. It might lessen the number of horror and pornographic videos that adolescents watch if television programming were provided that addresses their particular needs and interests.

It is certainly true that television violence does not account for all the causes of children's aggression, and it is also true that some children are a great deal more likely to be affected by television violence than others, and that it is these children who are likely to be potentially more aggressive anyway. But the effect of television violence leads these "at-risk" children to be even more aggressive than they would otherwise be. And although the group especially at risk might be a minority of viewers, they are likely to be the majority of aggressors. This fact makes them, and the violent content of television, worthy of our attention.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Time Kacehh sebab udah baca ini entry:)