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Media violence on youth at young age can have lasting effects

Published on -4/1/2013, 8:23 AM

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This is the sixth in a series about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: What are some additional effects of media violence on youth?

A: Probably one of the greatest pitfalls of violence on television and all media forms is the failure to show any consequences for using violence to settle conflicts, according to the Parents Television Council. The Media Awareness Network said studies show children who have steady diets of media violence are more likely to be violent adults. Children mimic what they observe.

The Parents Television Council points out after viewing violent programs, children are more apt to disobey parents or hit playmates than those children who do not view aggressive media. Younger children confuse fantasy and reality, and all children tend to romanticize villains.

The Kaiser Foundation discovered aggressive tendencies were 69 percent more prevalent in children's programs than other programs in general. As mentioned previously, children's programs and cartoons have twice as much violence as regular television programs.

A new study, the Psychology of Popular Music Culture, by Douglas Gentile, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, was published in the July issue of an American Psychological Association Journal. The study named exposure to media violence as one of six risk factors that predicts later aggression. The study had 430 children ages 7 to 11 from five schools in Minnesota. The Gentile results documented those risk factors as media violence exposure, bias toward hostility, prior physical fights, physical victimization, low parent involvement and gender. Gentile stated as the number of risk factors increases, the risk of aggressive behavior rises proportionately.

Gentile and research associates recommend this information could be useful in counteracting bullying. He believes measuring the risk factors can predict the risk for bullying. Gentile stated he can get 80 percent or more accuracy by knowing three factors: is the victim a boy, has the person been in a fight within the past year, and does the person watch a lot of media violence? He also said with six risk factors known, researchers can predict with 94 percent accuracy which kids will be in fights in the next year.

Gentile and staff believe their new statistical approach of relative weight analysis provides the most accurate assessment of how much each factor contributes to the probability of aggression in combination with the other risk factors. Media violence was similar in importance to the other risk factors.

Gentile and the other researchers reached two conclusions about the influence of media violence on children's behavior. First, the combination of risk factors is a far greater danger than any single factor, including media violence. The second conclusion is what sets media violence exposure apart from the other factors is it is the one most easily controlled by parents.

In a Los Angeles Times article from 2011, Jeffrey Cole, director of University of Southern California's Annenberg School for the Digital Future, was quoted as attributing the extreme violence on the media to the influence of the Internet. Since there are no restraints on the Web, there is pressure on television to show more and more graphic, provocative imagery.

Professor Leonard Eron studied 850 third-graders in 1960 and found those who watched violent programs on television were more likely to be aggressive at school. Eleven years later, in 1971, Eron found the subjects who had watched violent programs in the first study were eight times more likely to be in trouble with the law. In 1982, the same children were evaluated and found to be more likely to have been convicted of serious crimes, use aggression towards their spouses or use aggression in disciplining their children. One of the other effects of too much exposure to television violence has been the reluctance of bystanders to intervene or call for help when witnessing bullying or other forms of aggression.

One of the most influential social institutions in the preservation and transmission of violence is sports. Violence is apparent especially in football, soccer and hockey. One has only to remember the spectacle of the Super Bowl to recognize the importance accorded to sports.

What do fans admire the most? Physical aggression and violence and a win-at-any-cost mentality. The player who finishes the game with a broken bone or concussion is the object of admiration from sports fans. Only recently has medicine brought to the attention of the public the incremental damage from repeated hits, especially head injuries.

The violent male sports reinforce the image of the dominant, aggressive, competitive male that is perpetuated by contemporary culture. Professional boxers have died from violence in fights. Occasionally, youth in football have died from unrecognized underlying conditions. Sports heroes are icons in contemporary culture that boys hold in high esteem and emulate. The media focuses much of its programming on sports: high school, college and professional. Sports are a significant influence in media violence.

* Next week's article will enumerate other negative effects of media in addition to violence.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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