The influence of television violence on children and adolescents

Poverty, intrafamilial aggression, emotional deprivation and television (TV) viewing of films with aggressive content are among the factors associated with aggressiveness in children and adolescents.

Many studies have shown a significant association between exposure to TV aggression and violent behaviour in childhood and adolescence. Long-lasting effects of this exposure are shown in longitudinal studies. Others researchers think that youth preference for violent films depends mainly on individual and social characteristics and that these films merely reinforce existing aggressive tendencies. It has been shown that young murderers copy crimes of erotic and violent nature, that they have seen on films.

Studies show that children under 6 years are particularly susceptible to violent TV viewing. This is understandable since young children have difficulty separating fantasy from reality. Boys are at special risk as well as abused children and aggressive adolescents.

It has been shown that 1/3 of the children aged 3-10 years watch TV without parental guidance. Violent films are watched by 28%-40% of them. Lots of TV is watched by children of mothers with low educational level. Greek households have more than one TV sets and children watch often TV without parental guidance for 21-32 hours per week.

Mechanisms involved in the increase of aggressiveness in children after violent TV viewing are the imitation of the aggressive hero and the identification with him as well as desensitization from violence. Violence in films that is justified or beneficial for the aggressor is the most dangerous. Moreover through violent TV viewing the fear of children is increased and a culture characterized by aggression and lack of respect for the other is promoted.

Many medical societies have issued guidelines concerning TV viewing by children. Children should not watch more than 2 hours of TV daily and children under 2 years of age should not watch TV. The parents should get to know the quality of the TV programs and should try to watch TV with their children in order to make appropriate comments. The medical community should become informed about the dangers of violent TV viewing and subsequently inform their patients. Physicians should also inform government agencies about these dangers. Politicians should pass legislation controlling the presentation of violent TV films and dictating the creation of appropriate school programs concerning TV education. Finally, TV producers should limit the production of violent shows which dangerously affect the lives of children and adolescents.

Key words: TV, violence, children, adolescents, guidelines.