The effects of television on children is a subject which touches almost everyone in the western world. Everytime something new and different appears on our television screens it is questioned by the powers which protect our children from unsuitable material on the small screen. For the past 50 years television and its effects on children have been scrutinised by research from all over the world. In this essay I will attempt to breakdown this research and find out whether or not television has an influence on children’s aggression and prosocial behaviour. I will look at how different programs affect children in different ways (i. programs with violence as a main theme and programs with little or no violence in them) and the theory that it is what the child brings to the television that’s important rather than what he/she sees on the screen. However, I am not suggesting that violent television programs automatically make their viewers violent, as this is an extremely incorrect view. There are several different theories with regards violence in children and its relationship to television and in this essay I will attempt to bring them all together and draw one conclusive theory which reflects all the evidence I have gathered.
Television has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. From the days of black and white box sets to the now high definition plasma tvs, it is an ever evolving industry. But not only has the shape and quality of the tv set itself changed but the content being screened has also evolved. We’ve seen blockbuster films from years back like Godzilla and King Kong, which were made with puppet monsters, remade using new computer generated technology so that the monsters look realistic and believable. Advances in technology have made television much more attractive to everyone, especially children.
Children have always been a major target audience for television companies. Disney is a prime example of a brand which targets children. But are these programs, although made for children, suitable for children? For example, one of Walt Disney’s earliest feature length animated films was “Beauty and the Beast. ” Towards the end of the film we see the beast (good) and Gaston (evil) fighting atop the roof of a castle. The film ends with Gaston falling from the roof and presumably dieing. Does this incident provoke the child to thinking that this violence is acceptable and therefore have an influence on their aggression?
It is difficult to say but the evidence would suggest that it does not. If a child was not aggressive to start with then this incident should have little or no effect on them but if the child is normally relatively aggressive then it may affect them. “What children get from television depends on what they bring to it. ”(Messenger Davies, Dr M. )(1989). The type of television watched by a child is another factor that can be taken into account. “There is a relationship between the kind of tv program children watch and aggressive behaviour in school. ”(Hetherington, E. M & Parke R. D. ) (1986).
The fact that there is a relationship between the type of programs children watch and aggressiveness, however does not mean that all children who watch violent programs become more aggressive. It is also a theory that violent children enjoy watching violent programs and therefore they watch more of them. “Some kinds of television programs are related to the amount of pre school aggression while other types of tv fare are not. ”(Hetherington, E. M & Parke, R. D)(1986). For example, children who watch action/adventure programs are more likely to be violent towards their peers then those who watch “Seasame Street” or “Barney. A field experiment undertaken by Friedrich and Stein(1973) showed that “Exposure to tv violence does affect interpersonal aggressive behaviour if a child is already likely to behave aggressively. ”(Hetherington, E. M & Parke, R. D) (1986). What we can draw from this is that television does not make non-violent children aggressive but it does influence the aggressiveness of already violent children. A violent child is more likely to dwell on the violent aspects of a program while a less aggressive child will concentrate more on the less violent points of the program.
A number of major experiments have been carried out on the subject of violence on television affecting children. One of these was the laboratory experiment carried out by Liebert and Baron(1972). This experiment took one hundred thirty six children and split them into two groups- experimentals and controls. The experimental group were shown three and a half minutes of “The Untouchables”(a violent program) while the control group were shown three and a half minutes of a sports sequence showing athletes competing in certain events.
The next part of the experiment was to seat the children in front of a choice of two buttons labelled “hurt” and “help. ” Another child in an adjacent room was playing a game which involved turning a handle. The child in control of the buttons was told that they could press either button and that the “help” button would make turning the handle easier for the other child while the “hurt” button would cause the handle to become hot and hurt the other child. At the end of the experiment “the results were clear.
Children who viewed “The Untouchables” program showed reliably greater willingness to engage in interpersonal aggression than those who had observed the neutral program. ”(Hetherington, E. M & Parke, R. D)(1989). This is a fairly definitive result which shows that there are certainly some factors which link aggressive behaviour and violence on television. However, every experiment has its limitations and this experiment is no exception despite its conclusive result. One of the limitations for example was that the programs watched by the children were edited.
Despite this however there is a clear relationship between violence on tv and increased aggressive behaviour in children that watch it. In conclusion, from all the research that has been done in this field of study there was no shortage of information to utilise in this essay and for me personally it was a very interesting topic of study. Although there are many limitations to every experiment in this field and it is very difficult to obtain a decisive result I feel that, in this essay, I have proven that television can have an influence on children’s aggression and prosocial behaviour.
References * Buckingham, D (2002). Small Screens, Television for Children. London, Leicester University Press. * Byrne, E & Mc Quillan, M (1999). Deconstructing Disney. London, Pluto Press * Halloran, J. D (1971). The Effects of Mass Communication, With Reference to Television. Leicester, Leicester University Press. * Hetherington, E. M & Parke, R. D (1986). Child Psychology, A Contemporary Viewpoint Third Edition. United States of America, Mc Graw-Hill inc. * Messenger Davies, Dr M. (1989). Television is Good for Your Kids. London, Hilary Shipman Limited.