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Media Violence And The Effects On Children

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Does media violence have a negative effect on children?

On September 11th, 2001, millions around the world crowded around televisions across the globe, watching the horrific scenes of terrorism that had struck New York City, Washington, D.C and Pennsylvania on that ill-fated and now infamous morning. Our sense of security and impenetrable protection crashed 110 stories to the shaken streets of New York City. We watched with shock and horror, disbelief and grief as the images were repeatedly flashed before our eyes, with the all the drama of the plane crashing through the World Trade Center and bursting into an indescribable ball of fire and of the surreal scenes of demolished piles of what used to be the Twin Towers of New York City. We witnessed desperate pleas for help from family members of missing victims. We were shown images of the wounded victims and of the unimaginable destruction in the streets of New York. Our expeditious system of mass media provided us with an immediate window to this dramatic and unprecedented tragedy.

We were not alone as we stood looking through this window to the trauma and terrorism enveloping us. As we looked on with fear and horror, so did children. As we watched the 24-hour coverage of the events unfolding, so did children. Every major station broadcast continuous coverage of the "attack on America" for days following the tragedy. While networks provided live coverage, personal interviews and professional analysis, cable stations flashed messages of condolence and sympathy across the bottom of the screen during regular programming, as a constant reminder and acknowledgement of tragedy that had shaken us to our knees. If we as adults were so affected by the trauma of the events, then what can be said for the children who witnessed these same images of horror and terrorism? How, with such an undeveloped capacity to understand the world and the proximity of danger, can we say that children were not affected by the violence of this tragedy? In a time when adults cannot fully understand the context of the violence in our world, how can children possibly be expected to make sense of it? They cannot. Living in a culture and time where violence permeates countless aspects of society in both fiction and reality; visual, verbal, implied and overt; and given the prevalence and pervasiveness of the violence surrounding us, it is evident that exposure to violence in the media casts some negative affect upon children.

In the weeks following the tragedy, the images of the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were banned from the media. Government official and scientific experts agreed that the trauma incited by these images was detrimental to children. President Bush expressed his concern for the mental scars that could likely be inflicted upon children as a result of this prevalence of terrorism and violence in the media. It is apparent then that experts concur; the violent images permeating the media could likely have a negative effect on children, causing them to feel unsafe, and to live in fear for their own lives and those of their loved ones. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell reported that:

Children neurologically are not well suited to deal with extremes

of trauma, so when they see this kind of stuff, right now it may look like some

the movies they have seen on television. Except in this case people

don't get up and act in the next (movie). In this case they're injured

because they're injured or they're dead because they're dead. So it

can be very traumatizing for children to see these images on TV.

They don't understand what this is all about...So that's

why I'm suggesting that we not allow an excessive amount of TV

for children at this particular point (Mitchell, 2001).

The news is not the only source of violence for children. Our fictional television programming is responsible for significant exposure of children to media violence. Content analysis of media programming proves the prevalence of violence in the media today. The access to television, the Internet, and other media outlets is at an all time high. About 99% of American households have television, often two or three sets. Nielson reports show that children ages 2 to 11 watch an average of 23 hours of television each week, while teenagers devote an average of 21.5 hours per week to television viewing (Hepburn, 1997). From an early age, both parents and children rely heavily on television as a source of entertainment and diversion. Parents often use the television as a babysitter to occupy children and free time for themselves. Television and the media are used as educational tools both in the home and in the schools. The problem with this prolonged exposure lies in the pervasive nature of violent content in television programming. Content analysis studies conducted by countless commissions, foundations and organizations reveal in fact the indisputable presence of violence in television programming. The National Television Violence Study, monitoring all types of TV channels; basic cable, premium cable, public broadcasting, independent broadcasting, and networks; concluded that 57% of television programs portray violence, often with more than one violent act in each program. According to a recent study published by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, more than 1,800 acts of violence occur during 18 hours of television programming. It has been found that more than 26 acts of violence are seen in the average network children's program (Posch, 1993). Than 75% of these violent acts depicted no punishment or consequences for the perpetrators. Worse yet, children's programs were found to portray more violence than normal adult programming. Children's programs contain nearly 10% more violence than the average program. It is in children's shows such as cartoons where these violent acts are more likely to be portrayed as comical or unrealistic, failing to show the realistic effects of violent acts (Hepburn, 1997).

Clearly violence is a prevalent element in the media, but does violence in the media cause violent behavior in children? Is the media responsible for the acts of violence committed by children? These are the questions debated by countless numbers of the most educated and well-informed experts. The answers to these questions are not easily reached and fall along the same

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