by Tina Blue
August 16, 2000

Have you read that four different groups of experts on child development have recently released a joint report saying that violence in the media actually has a significant influence on how aggressively children behave? Well, duh!

I think it's interesting that even as media moguls insist that none of the antisocial or violent content of the popular media has any noticeable impact on children, they assure their advertisers that thirty seconds of advertising time is worth millions of dollars, specifically because people--even, one would presume, significantly less susceptible adults--are powerfully influenced by the images and suggestions they passively absorb while watching television or observing product placement scenes in movies.

Do you remember the way Hollywood got together in the eighties and nineties to push the idea of the designated driver to prevent drunk driving, and the idea of condom use to prevent pregnancy and STDs? The assumption was that cultural norms, and thus behavior, could be significantly altered through a concerted attempt by the media to establish new norms. Well, the program for normalizing violence and antisocial attitudes is not a deliberately designed effort to undermine our cultural values or to contribute to delinquent behavior--but it works as efficiently as if it were!

Here at Kansas University, researchers have been studying the impact of media violence on children for as long as I can remember--at least since my now college-age children were in elementary school. But the researchers are just enlarging and refining their data. They had already concluded at least four or five years ago that there is a significant impact, and that children who watch a lot of violence on TV or film are more likely to be aggressive and to resort to violence to solve problems.

But we knew this already, even if a lot of people did not want to actually admit it. Politicians who are beholden to large donors in the film and television industry don't want to bite the hands that shovel so much cash into their coffers. They might nibble gently on occasion, just enough to satisfy a restive populace, but bite--no, I don't think so, and the film and television executives don't really think so, either. They understand how the game is played.

Kids who want to watch whatever toxic images are offered to them as the latest "cool" thing aren't going to complain. They like this stuff, even if it is clearly not good for them. They like junk food, too, after all.

And what about the parents? Surely they are on duty. They won't let the minds and characters of their precious children be warped and deformed by the malevolent influence of a violent and antisocial popular culture.

Unfortunately, though, too many parents are not on duty--not in any meaningful way. They've got other things going on, and they just don't have the time or energy to monitor what their children watch. They comfort themselves with the conventional notion that children are resilient, that they won't suffer lasting harm if their parents use the television to babysit them, not even noticing what values and images they are exposing their children's young minds to.

In my experience, people who say that children are resilient usually say so just as they are proposing to neglect a child's very real needs. I don't advocate hovering over children and overprotecting them, but how can anyone not see that a steady diet of media violence--which becomes more and more extreme as people become more and more desensitized to it--is bound to have a bad influence on some, probably even most, children?

Some kids won't be significantly harmed, and some may not be harmed at all. But we can be certain the many children will internalize the violent lessons that they learn from the media, and their acceptance of violence as the norm may well determine how they behave when subjected to the innumerable stressors that pervade modern life.

You won't want to be nearby when one of them decides to demonstrate how well he has learned what he has been so assiduously taught.

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