Violence in Audio-Visual Media: How Educators
Can Respond. ERIC Digest.
by Hepburn, Mary A.
Over the past 20 years there have been numerous studies and frequent
warnings about violent television programs and movies arousing young people
to act violently. Of course, other social factors can increase the likelihood
of violence by youth: lack of interaction with parents, brutality in home
life, exposure to violence in neighborhoods, and easy access to guns. Nevertheless,
researchers have pointed to many hours of viewing excessive violence as
a potential contributor to violent behavior by youngsters. This Digest
examines evidence of violence in TV programs, movies, and video games;
its possible impact on the behavior of youngsters; and what educators can
do about it.
TV SHOWS, MOVIES, AND VIDEO GAMES IN AMERICAN HOUSEHOLDS.
Nearly 100 percent of households have television, and the total number
of sets is increasing; 87 percent of households have two or more television
sets. Over 60 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have a television set in their
bedroom. Cable TV is found in about 77 percent of American homes, greatly
increasing the number of channels and programs available (Stanger and Gridina
1999). Children readily learn the TV-viewing lifestyle from the adults
around them. Within households viewing time may total up to 59 hours a
week (Nielsen 1998). In addition to extensive viewing of programs and movies
on television, children at home have access to other on-screen entertainment,
including video games and the Internet. Stanger and Gridina (1999) found
that 67 percent of homes with children had video game equipment. Slightly
over 68 percent of homes with children have computers and 41 percent have
access to the Internet. Boys are more than twice as likely than girls to
play video games and are more likely than girls to use the Internet. While
Internet use is increasing widely throughout society, television is still
the main source of entertainment and news for the majority of Americans.
THE EXTENT OF VIOLENCE IN TELEVISION PROGRAMS.
Recent studies indicate extensive violence in television programs. The
National Television Violence Study, for example, found that 57 percent
of programs contained violence, usually numerous acts of violence in a
single program. In approximately 75 percent of these programs, the violence
seemed to be sanctioned, with no punishment of the perpetrators. Violence
was depicted as humorous in more than a third of the programs. Only 4 percent
of the violent programs offered a strong anti-violence message. Premium
cable programs, often showing movies, had the highest percentage of violence.
A study of children's programs showed that they were 10 percent more violent
than adult programs (Seawell 1998).
For over three years, the UCLA Center for Communications Policy (1997)
conducted studies monitoring violent content of TV programs and other home
media. The UCLA studies point to specific programs and video games in which
persistent acts of violence are portrayed, including "The X-Files," the
"Duke Nukem 3D" video game, and the kind of "sinister combat violence"
found in Saturday morning programs for children.
There has been some improvement in recent years, especially in the television
networks. But youngsters are still seeing and hearing a great deal of violent
behavior during their usual viewing hours, and there is evidence that increasingly
they are watching programs during later hours and seeing more graphic shows
that combine sex and brutality (Seawell 1998).
EFFECTS OF VIEWING VIOLENCE.
Attraction to violent action is a cumulative effect of many hours and
years of viewing violence on television and in movies by young people who
have not developed critical resistance. According to the American Academy
of Pediatrics, by age 18 the average adolescent will have viewed 200,000
acts of violence on television alone. Researchers observed that while a
young viewer might see three to five violent acts in an hour of prime-time
television viewing, Saturday morning cartoons contain 20 to 25 violent
acts per hour. Pediatricians warn that media violence can be especially
damaging to children under age 8 because they cannot readily tell the difference
between real life and fantasy (Hepburn 2000).
Analysis of research reveals that while viewing violence can have serious
long-term effects, making some young people comfortable with physical aggression
and even arousing them to violent action, it can make others increasingly
fearful of being victims. The negative influences are related to (a) frequent
viewing of excessive violence in movies, TV programs, cartoons, and video
games; (b) lack of interaction with family members or peers who provide
mediating influences; and the need for critical study of the media in education
What can educators do in response to the adverse effects of violence
in audio-visual media on children and adolescents? Staying informed about
research on the topic is an obvious first step. Until recently, such research
has been difficult for educators to obtain. Textbooks and training programs
used in the education of social studies teachers are just beginning to
include mass media literacy studies and the skills needed to build a critical
defense against the effects of violence in the entertainment that is so
pervasive in the lives of American children. Pioneering curriculum and
instruction are needed to bring media awareness and media literacy into
courses for both teachers and students. Law-related education and citizenship/civic
education programs are strong promoters of critical thinking. Therefore,
lessons about media violence are well-suited to teacher training and classroom
activities in these subjects. Because young people are already highly interested
in TV viewing and video games, teachers readily can lead students into
structured evaluation and critical thinking.
Six types of instructional activities, including appropriate questions
and resources, are recommended for teaching about violence in the media.
1. Review the First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and discuss
laws that limit broadcasts during specific hours and that regulate distribution
of video games in order to protect children.
2. Examine the rationale for the television program rating system, the
V-Chip in new TV sets, and the feasibility of parental review and application
of V-Chip technology.
3. Use the research cited in this Digest as a starting point for student
groups to systematically and critically evaluate their own home viewing
of TV programs, movies, and video games.
4. Provide consumer education for home media consumption.
5. Conduct discussions and surveys involving the community to highlight
the problem of violence in mass media and to generate practical solutions
to the problem.
WORLD WIDE WEB RESOURCES.
The following Web sites are recommended as valuable sources of information
for teachers, students, and parents:
* The American Bar Association Division for Public Education publishes
"Update on Law-Related Education;" issue 22 (2) 1998 of that publication
contains viewpoints on free expression and regulation, updates on legislation
and court decisions relating to the media, and several practical teaching
strategies on media and communications issues. www.abanet.org/publiced
* The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania
publishes studies on media, information, and society. The fourth annual
survey (1999) of parents and children, entitled "Media in the Home," is
available on their Web site. www.appcpenn.org
* The Center for Media Literacy is a nonprofit organization that develops
educational programs and materials to encourage critical thinking about
all types of mass media. A catalog of educational kits, books, and videos
for teachers and parents is available online. One of their videos, "Beyond
Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media," has been praised for its approach
to violence reduction. They also have a study kit, "TV Alert: A Wake-Up
Guide to Television Literacy." www.medialit.org
* KIDSNET is an online national resource center on broadcasts for children
from preschool to high school. The Web site serves as an information center
and clearinghouse for children's television, videos, and multimedia. To
increase media literacy, KIDSNET offers online guides to link reading with
viewing of quality TV programs. www.kidsnet.org
* The National Institute on Media and the Family provides online resources
on research, information, and education on the impact of the media on children
and families. Included is the "1999 Video and Computer Game Report" and
numerous resources of value to teachers and parents for evaluating media
and educating children. Contact the organization toll free at 888/672-5437
or visit their Web site: www.mediaandthefamily.org.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are available in microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Services (EDRS).
For information about prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite
110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400
and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly
in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger
libraries by using the bibliographic information provided, requested through
Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial reprint services.
Hepburn, Mary A. "TV Violence: A Medium's Effects Under Scrutiny." SOCIAL
EDUCATION 61 (September 1997): 244-249. EJ 554 668.
Hepburn, Mary A. VICARIOUS VIOLENCE ON THE SCREEN: A CHALLENGE TO EDUCATORS
AND FAMILIES. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2000. ED 443 776.
Levine, Madeline. VIEWING VIOLENCE: HOW MEDIA VIOLENCE AFFECTS YOUR
CHILD'S AND ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT. New York: Doubleday, 1996. ED 402 085.
Nielsen Media Research. REPORT ON TELEVISION. New York: A. C. Nielsen
Seawell, Margaret, Ed. NATIONAL TELEVISION VIOLENCE STUDY. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 1998. ED 420 437.
Stanger, Jeffrey D., and Natalya Gridina. MEDIA IN THE HOME. Washington,
DC: The Annenberg Public Policy Center, 1999.
UCLA Center for Communications Policy. UCLA TELEVISION VIOLENCE MONITORING
REPORT. Los Angeles: University of California at Los Angeles, 1997. www.ccp.ucla.edu.
Wright, John C., and Others. "Young Children's Perceptions of Television
Reality: Determinants and Developmental Differences." DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY
30 (March 1994): 229-239. EJ 482 025.