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The Negative Influence Of Television On Children

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For decades there has been debate as to how television media affects our children. Many parents have been concerned since the beginning of television. Through extensive research over the last few decades, television has been thought to desensitize and have detrimental effects on our children, which inhibits them from developing feelings of security, compassion, diplomacy, and discernment. Television watching also promotes violence, unsafe sexual practices, and eating disorders in children.

According to Muscari, the average American child spends approximately 28 hours per week watching television. By the time a child reaches the age of 18 they will have seen 16,000 murders and 200,000 other acts of violence. American media is the most violent in the world; 80 percent of American television programs contain violence (31). This does not include other forms of media such as: movies, video games, music, and in current day, the Internet. Berk notes that violence is rarely condemned, nor or ways of solving problems often depicted. It is because children do not see the seriousness of violence that they often do not get the full impact of the consequences, such as what happens when someone is shot with a gun. Children are learning that violence is the answer to problems. Boys and children from low socio-economic backgrounds tend to be the more frequent viewers of television (347). Therefore for these children, television should especially be monitored.

Many children cannot distinguish between real and fantasy violence. Two and three year olds cannot tell the difference from what is on television and what is real. If a young child is asked if a bowl of popcorn pictured on television would spill if the television were knocked down, they will almost always answer yes. In addition, preschoolers have trouble combining different scenes into one whole story. They cannot view a character's motives or consequences. It isn't until age seven that a child begins to understand that this person is a character that is playing a role and his behavior is scripted (Berk 378). Television for children under the age of seven needs to be positive in nature as, to them, it is real.

Research has found many negative effects from watching television. Children may become desensitized to the pain and suffering of others and are more likely to behave aggressively toward others. They also may become more fearful of the world around them (Wolfe 80). This fear comes from the child watching violence on television and thus perceiving the world to be a violent place. A range of negative actions can be induced by the media, including general anxiety and nightmares that can affect a child for a considerable length of time (Linn 108-117).

Furthermore, according to Linn, "when people first think of the ill effects of television, they often think of violence, but childhood obesity, anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are escalating health problems" (95) associated with television as well. Television ads encourage children to eat unhealthy foods and the more they watch them, the more they believe that these foods are healthy for them (Berk 408). The opposite side is that, extremely thin females are often seen on television, causing average size Americans to perceive themselves as being overweight. Television portrays that with a thin body comes "power, popularity, friends and success (and those that are overweight) are often perceived as failures, lonely or rejected" (Marcus). When an average American views themselves as overweight it may lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Anorexia affects approximately 1% of American teenage girls, and 2-3% are affected by bulimia (Berk 532 - 533).

The visual part of television is not the only cause for eating disorders. As children get heavier they spend less time actively playing and then replace that time with sedentary pursuits and gain more weight (Berk 408). These sedentary pursuits can include more television watching and more eating, exacerbating the problem.

Since the beginning of broadcast, the creators of television have understood that commercialism was what funded programming. When television first came out in the 1950's there were 28 hours of children's programming. This encouraged parents to purchase televisions. It was not because broadcasters wanted to educate children; instead, they knew the more people they had watching television, the more marketing they could perform, giving the advertisers more money (Steyer 44).

Today, in the marketing world, it is known that 'sex sells'. It has been a lesson that many media suppliers such as cable companies and music industry executives have learned exceptionally well. Because of competition for viewers, networks have "pushed the envelope of what they consider acceptable for family viewing" (Steyer 45). Consequently, this widens the boundaries of what is acceptable.

When television was first introduced in the 1950's, it was volunteered by the broadcasters to keep profanity, obscenities, smut and vulgarity off the airwaves. There was even a twin bed rule for married couples. When the twin bed rule changed in the 1960s, they still had to show that the couple was wearing appropriate night attire. It was in the 1970s that more shows began to bring risquй content to television such as premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, and pregnancy. Public access channels were even showing explicit, hardcore shows that featured prostitutes and strippers. It was after the FCC's criticism that broadcasters agreed to prime time television. In the 1980's it was the Reagans administration's deregulation process that further removed the barriers for broadcasters and cable companies. This is when paid cable channels became available, bringing rated X movies to the home, as well as Fox Broadcasting "targeting a younger audience with raunchy shows like Married ... with Children" (Steyer 45-46). Over time regulations have change, with each new inception, allowing more 'freedom' at the expense of our children.

Television continues to use the marketability of sex sells. Programming aimed at teen audiences, such as Charmed, The War at Home, and Girlfriends are loaded with sexual content. There are scenes that include anything from bed swapping, to bathroom stall coupling, to talk of masturbation. It is also not just teens that are watching these shows. Adult shows, where sexual content is skyrocketing, makes up 70 percent of most children over the age of ten's television (Steyer 46-47).

Often when teenagers are first becoming interested in sex they rarely get information from their parents. It is all too common that they receive these messages from friends, television and other forms of media. Often they are tuned into prime time television,

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