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Media Violence and Children


Studies, surveys, and common sense dictate the obvious, exposure to violent media forms by impressionable children beget violent behaviors. Television violence has evolved well beyond the Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon that many parents of today watched. Popular video games such as Mortal Kombat and Doom aren’t your father’s pong and space invaders. Allowing TV and video games to babysit is convenient for parents but the long-term outcomes may be detrimental for their children. What may have been mostly harmless, though unproductive, fun for parents when they were kids may now be of concern.


Violence plays a major role in media venues such as popular video games, television shows, and movies. PTV programming has expanded since its invention, covering worldwide and local news, educational programs, travel, sports, and comedy of various types. Busy parents have found the TV a useful playmate for children during dinner preparation and other activities. Children are most likely to find an enjoyable program somewhere on the dial at any time of the day or night. Although TV can be entertaining and educational, too much TV leads to health, behavioral, and learning problems. Playing violent video games may be more detrimental than viewing violent television shows or movies because they are especially enthralling, interactive, and necessitate the player to associate on a personal level with the violent character of the game. Evidence is overwhelming that reducing exposure to violent media will result in a decrease in children’s aggressive tendencies.

Television Media

The Good

Proponents of television watching have several arguments why television is not the ‘devil box’ opponents have made it out to be.

They argue television programs have reached unprecedented levels of quality in recent years with the introduction of rich storylines full of well-developed plots and intriguing, psychologically rounded characters. In addition to improving the programs already offered, there has been a rise, with the increased technology and delivery structure, in the number of specialty channels devoted exclusively to children, such as Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel.

Finally, the TV provides adults and children with a necessary and affordable form of relaxation and entertainment, an escape from an otherwise highly stressful world regardless of the age level. (Stentz, 1999). Although it has been argued that television provides quality entertainment at an affordable price, this is not necessarily the case for the ‘masses’ that TV is proposed to benefit. The specialty channels that offer the highest quality programming for children are frequently only included with cable or other types of television delivery packages, not necessarily reaching into every home.

The Bad

Proponents of television also point to a large number of specialty channels now available for children everywhere, such as Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, that function to provide quality entertainment, but evidence suggests the benefits are not outweighed by the costs. Regardless of the channel, the child is watching, they remain subject to the powerful draw of television advertisements. More than building the rampant consumerism that has been experienced in recent years, these advertisements also function to promote unhealthy lifestyles and patterns, as well as an increase in violence.

“The average American child, including those searching for moral lessons on television, has seen 16,000 murders and 200,000 total acts of violence by the time he or she reaches 18. … Can anyone seriously argue that kids aren’t harmed in some way by watching that much carnage?” (MacFarland, 1999). Playing a violent video game also has been shown to encourage the susceptibility to aggressive thought patterns by the ‘semantic priming process.’ This process, in all probability, accounts for the ‘weapons effect’ first reported by Berkowitz and LePage (1967).

Arguments claiming that TV is a relaxing form of entertainment do not provide any proof that it is indeed the case. Because a great deal of the programming on TV involves violent events, such as a kidnapping or a murder, the risk is high that many of them will grow up believing “that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them” (Gavin, 2005). This is hardly a relaxed condition in which to live. In much the same way, TV-reinforced gender and racial stereotypes are also encouraged through several programs targeted to children, leading to a much more harmful form of entertainment than most would choose willingly.

Video Games Media

Cause and Effect

Infamous events have generated extensive debate regarding the effects of video game violence. For example, a nationwide conversation ensued regarding what connection video games had to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where two students murdered 13 and wounded 23 before killing themselves. While many motivations were likely involved, it is not possible to identify precisely what provoked these teenagers to shoot their classmates and teachers but violent video games have been mentioned as one possible contributing factor. The two students had often played Doom, a brutal and bloody firearms game that is used by the military to teach the U.S. armed forces how to kill more efficiently. To what degree this game influenced the actions of these two youths has been argued since this incident. The Entertainment media, it is widely accepted, is an extremely influential factor in everyone’s lives. “What behaviors children and adults consider appropriate comes, in part, from the lessons we learn from television and the movies” (Huesmann & Miller, 1994).

The Evidence

It is reasonable to expect video games, especially those that portray violence, will have a similar and possibly a more expansive effect on violent behavior. Current research demonstrates that aggressive behaviors arise both in everyday life situations and during orchestrated studies using objective, scientific procedures; the playing of video games that were violent in nature unquestionably correlated to an increase of aggressive conduct. In a college study, students who played a violent video game, not surprisingly, acted with increased aggression towards a playing partner than did those students who had played a nonviolent game.

(Calvert & Tan, 1994). Another study was conducted which examined the video game habits of students during their four-year college career which reported that when playing in a normal, dorm-room type environment, playing violent video games over a period of these years encouraged more aggressive behavior.

This increase occurred, not only during the game but in other facets of the student’s lives as well. Both studies found that violent video games negatively influence a person’s current emotional condition escalating feelings of hostility or anger. The similar findings of these different study methods give further credibility to the premise that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive behavior (Calvert & Tan, 1994).


By considering television and video games on a deeper level than the surface of the screen and the immediate pleasure and escape it offers, it is possible to see that television watching has a negative effect on children. Although it promises a wide selection of quality and affordable entertainment that relaxes as it entertains, there remains a dark side to these benefits.

The quality programs are often only available on the more expensive television service plans, the plentitude of programming encourages children to abandon other forms of entertainment and presents them with violent, often frightening images as well as highly targeted advertising that leads them into unhealthy, stress-filled hours. Playing violent video games, in the short term, appears to affect hostility by prompting aggressive thoughts. Long-term effects are liable to be long lasting as well because the player is trained then practices aggressive acts that become progressively easier to access on a sub-conscious level for use when confronted by future aggravating circumstances. Repeated exposure to violent media types such as video games and television has been shown to, in effect, alter the player’s basic personality structure. Lessening children’s exposure to violent media forms decreases children’s aggressive tendencies.


Berkowitz, L. & LePage, A. (1967). “Weapons as Aggression-Eliciting Stimuli.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 7, pp. 202-7.

Calvert, S. L. & Tan, S. (1994). “Impact of Virtual Reality on Young Adults’ Physiological Arousal and Aggressive Thoughts: Interaction Versus Observation.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Vol. 15, pp. 125-39.

Gavin, Mary. (2005). “How TV Affects Your Child.” Kids Health for Parents. Nemours Foundation.

Huesmann, L.R. & Miller, L.S. (1994). “Long-Term Effects of Repeated Exposure to Media Violence in Childhood.” Aggressive Behavior: Current Perspectives. L.R. Huesmann (Ed.). New York: Plenum Press.

MacFarland, Andrew. (1999). “TV and Me: Confessions of a Would-Be ‘Go Colonel’ Dancer.” Metro: Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper.

Stentz, Zack. (1999). “Feed Me TV: Four Arguments for the Avid Consumption of Television.” Metro: Silicon Valley’s Weekly Newspaper.


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