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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Children and TV Violence

American children watch an average of 3 to 4 hours of television daily. Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Unfortunately, much of today's television programming is violent. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may:

  • become immune to the horror of violence
  • gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems
  • imitate the violence they observe on television
  • identify with certain characters, victims, or victimizers.

Extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness. Sometimes watching a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated, or unpunished are more likely to imitate what they see. The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in a child's behavior or may surface years later. Young people can even be affected when the family atmosphere shows no tendency toward violence.

This does not mean that violence on television is the only source for aggressive or violent behavior, but it is a significant contributor.

You can protect children from excessive TV violence in the following ways:

  • Pay attention to the programs your children are watching. Watch some with them.
  • Set limits on the amount of time they spend with the television.
  • Point out that although the actor has not actually been hurt or killed, such violence in real life results in pain or death.
  • Refuse to let your children see violent TV shows.
  • Change the channel or turn off the TV set when something offensive comes on, with an explanation of what is wrong with the program.
  • Disapprove of the violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to resolve a problem.
  • To offset peer pressure among friends and classmates, contact other parents and agree to enforce similar rules about the length of time and types of programs the children may watch.

Parents should also use these measures to prevent harmful effects from television in other areas, such as racial or sexual stereotyping. The amount of time children watch TV, regardless of content, should be moderated. It keeps children from other, more beneficial activities such as reading and playing with friends. If parents have serious difficulties setting limits or deep concerns about how their child is reacting to television, they should contact a physician or mental health professional for help.

Developed by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems