What is Media Violence?

Violence is "a credible threat of physical force, or the application of physical force, intended to cause physical harm to an animate being or group of beings." The important things to note are that there needs to be intent to hurt and that the hurt is inflicted on living things rather than objects. Violence in the media is easily accessible to children. It occurs in cartoons, in news updates during family programs, in the news, in televised sporting events, and in "blockbuster' movies screened at 8.30pm on TV. Previews for forthcoming movies on the, parents often feel ambushed by these as they cannot be anticipated. We often find we have let into our homes through our TV screens what we would never let in through our front door.

What does the Research Show?

There is increasing instances of juveniles, adolescents, young adults and older committing crimes such as murder, assault and burglary. Members of society find themselves asking why this is happening. Images and themes found on the television often get the blame. Psychological research has shown three major effects of seeing violence on television:

  • Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others
  • Children may be more fearful of the world around them
  • Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways towards others

Television is also blamed for children being unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Teachers spend hours helping students "unlearn" what TV has taught them. Forever fighting the stereotypical images and unreal life-styles that television portrays.

A Continuing Debate

In spite of this strong evidence, broadcasters and scientists continue to debate the link between viewing TV violence and children's aggressive behaviour. Some broadcasters believe that there is not enough evidence to prove that TV violence is harmful. But scientists who have studied this issue say that there is a link between TV violence and aggression, and in 1992, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Television and Society published a report that confirms this view. The report, entitled Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society, shows that the harmful effects of TV violence do exist.

What Parents Can Do

While most scientists are convinced that children can learn aggressive behaviour from television, they also point out that parents have a tremendous power to moderate that influence. Parents can:

  • Minimise exposure to programs and products which feature glamorised violence, or ban certain programs altogether
  • Use the classification system to avoid programs/products classified M, MA or R. These are all recommended for persons over the age of 15 years
  • Minimise exposure to news programs for children under 11 or 12 years. These children are unlikely to understand that "it isn't likely to happen to you" as they do not understand probability
  • Be a media educator: express your views, and discuss program content, for example talk to children about what would happen if they did those violent things at home
  • Teach children to be critical viewers of TV
  • Buy or borrow videos with themes other than violence or encourage educational or documentary type programs
  • Encourage kids to spend time doing other enjoyable activities like sport, hobbies or playing with friends, instead of watching TV