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The media plays an important role in people's lives – it is both a source of information and a means of communication. Recently, however, people have noticed an increased negative impact of media information on children (primarily the Internet and television). TV carries a powerful influence on youth. It becomes a primary source of information for both a child and adolescent.
Lately, the educational functions of the family and the school have considerably decreased. Communication with children is replaced by other things, which they think are more important. This is the reason for the growing influence of the media information on the process of socialization and the formation of the outlook of the younger generation. The media, that often replace parents’ most important roles, gives results that are not always easy to eliminate or fix.
Scientific research denies the negative impact of television on the increase in crime. However, the study shows that the level of crime in any country increased in 10-15 years after the appearance of the TV with elements of violence and aggression. According to Caroline Knorr,
While experts agree that no one single factor can cause a nonviolent person to act aggressively, heavy exposure to violent media can be a risk factor for violent behavior. Children who are exposed to multiple risk factors - including aggression and conflict at home - are the most likely to behave aggressively. (2013) This viewpoint can be defended by the real facts in some areas in South Africa and Canada that for political or technical reasons did not have television until the early 70s of the twentieth century. Scientists state that after 3-8 years since the introduction of television there was a considerable increase in juvenile crime (2-3 times) in these regions.
In 1969, the Scientific Advisory Committee was created for the purpose of a more detailed analysis of violence in society. The commission's findings shocked the Americans: the result showed the direct link between violence on screen and violence in real life. Companies that demonstrate information with elements of violence are responsible for the actions of their watchers, especially children. Besides aggressiveness, another side of TV influence on children is slow mental development.
In recent years, there are a growing number of children who cannot assimilate the information they hear, as well as those who suffer from speech deficiency. Scientists are sure that children, who are "educated" by media (especially television) in early childhood, are able to perceive only visual information. At school, these children have great difficulty in changing visual perception to verbal. In addition, they need to communicate with other children, which is difficult for them.
According to Eugene V Beresin “Studies reveal that children watch approximately 28 hours of television a week, more time than they spend in school” (n.d.). During all school years, young people spend 15 000 hours in front of the screen. They see about 13,000 violent deaths.
Modern television tends to broadcast violent or erotic scenes, evoking the lowest instincts of man to attract the attention of the general public and get large profits from advertising. An adult can still critically evaluate all this television production and separate reality from virtual life, but children due to the lack of ability to distinguish real from virtual see all events that take place before their eyes as real. Murder and violence do not frighten them because, as a result of addiction, violence on television becomes natural for children.
Children often perceive violent scenes as a plan to follow in a real life, which gradually forms a criminal style of thinking. If one is offended, he/she has to fight back and destroy the offender; if one knows that he/she cannot act in accordance with legal methods, the line can be crossed; if one is rich and powerful, the law does not matter. As a result, children get used to these scenes and ideas, which teach them that the main way to solve most problems is violence. Arline Kaplan says that “In a 2009 Policy Statement on Media Violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed” (n.d.).
Statistics show that if a child watches adult programs for 3-4 hours a day, then before the end of elementary school, he/she sees about 8,000 murders. However, children are not able to perceive critically the information obtained and to distance themselves from it. Therefore, when a child sees violent scenes in a movie or television show, it gives him/her the strongest aggressive impulses.
Violence affects children view on the surrounding people. The main heroes of television films often succeed when attacking someone. “An individual’s desire to strike out is justified by media images in which both the hero and the villain use violence to seek revenge, often without consequences” (“What do we know about media violence?” n.d.) In this case, violence is an acceptable means of achieving the desired objectives. Teenagers watching fighting and adventure (also with scenes of violence) in large quantities come to the conclusion that the world is much more dangerous than their peers, who rarely watch TV, think. Permanent viewers believe strongly in the fact that they themselves can become victims of violence.
Watching films with violence regularly may contribute to the development of criminal tendencies, as well as a predisposition to violence. The eight-year-old boys who found the strongest attachment to the movies with bloody fights and murders are likely to be among the perpetrators of serious crimes when they reach the age of 30. Study shows that 58% of youth tries to follow the behavior of television characters, and 37.3% of young people are willing to commit illegal actions.
Experts believe that the impact of watching films full of aggressiveness on children can already be considered proved and this influence is performed in at least five ways:
- Children tend to imitate the behavior of their parents, other children, heroes, movies and programs, especially when they are positive. In this case, the child chooses some person or hero that he/she adores and tries to behave the same way;
- TV violence makes children insensitive to violence. The more violent programs or movies a child watches on TV, the more positive attitude toward aggressive behavior he/she takes. Furthermore, children who are passionate about violence in films tend to suspect others for aggressive action that is an emotional distortion. It increases the likelihood of their aggressive behavior. “Media violence gives children a sense that violence is everywhere. This environment contributes to a greater risk of abuse and violence in our homes, workplaces, and communities” (“Media violence,” n.d.).
- Justification of violence is one more bad consequence of watching violence on TV stimulating aggressive behavior. Children with a high level of aggressiveness keep watching violent programs and movies in order to get rid of the guilt and legitimize their own aggressiveness. Thus, they later become even more prone to show aggressive behavior for solving social problems;
- Media violence contains key stimuli that evoke aggressive thoughts, fantasies, feelings, and actions. This explains the well-known effect observed during psychological experiments when children watched one type of aggressive behavior, and then showed the aggressive actions of another kind. Even completely outside objects may subsequently serve as an incentive to behave violently;
- Children who are keen on watching violence on TV show lower levels of physiological arousal in response to the violence than another group of children who are not interested in watching TV that much. Unfortunately, they try to continuously maintain the level of aggression and watch violence on TV again and again.
The remark that the violence represented in the media in its positive, institutionalized forms does not leave a negative impression on the audience may be argued. On the contrary, children tend to regard the behavior of aggressive characters whose actions are presented in a movie or program as socially acceptable. One should also consider the fact that children under 11 years are not able to hold a clear separation between fantasy and reality.
Cartoons also have an impact on children. Their characters are often ugly and have a disgusting appearance. Children can catch any change of emotions, tiniest facial grimaces. This is subsequently reflected in the behavior of a child: one cannot imitate the evil facial expressions and remain good in heart. For example, when two-year-old children watched Tom and Jerry cartoon, they began to fight using small stools, which were in the room, copying heroes. Some children may take a knife, as the heroes of cartoons do, and hit another child or even an adult. Another story says that a four-year-old boy began to beat his relatives after watching The Matrix, as far as he saw that a good Neo struggled with bad "uncles".
Researchers found that children, who injure others while playing, do not understand what the pain and empathy are, as they cannot put themselves in the place of the child, which was harmed by them. Their parents do not tell them anything about it, and cartoons, on the contrary, show how “cool” it is to hurt another human being.
Here are some stories, which happened after children watched violent films.
- Barcelona. Three teenagers decided to repeat the trick that they saw on television late at night and stretched the plastic cord across the street to see how it would cut the throat of the rider.
- London. Two six-year-old boys completely destroyed the house of their neighbors to repeat telecast and win a prize. In a child program, the most original way to destroy a house in a television studio was offered.
- Oslo. Group of 5-6-year-old children played in bug-ninja and killed one girl.
- Valencia. A 20-year-old boy being dressed as ninja got into the house of his neighbors and killed a couple and their daughter.
Except for television, a similar effect on children is carried by video games. Nowadays computer technologies are highly developed to provide the programmers with the possibility to elaborate on the realistic and qualitative graphic designed games.
The game fans or in other words ‘gamers’ do nothing but play computer games. They differ from others because they have an awfully narrow circle of people to communicate with. They have only two necessary things: food and a powerful computer. They go mad because of games, and they are close to pathology. Taking into consideration the fact that the amount of children getting interested in playing video games increases every day, this question is in need of being looked into from the side of psychological specialists.
Playing violent video games for a long time destructs brain at the cellular level, complicates transmission of nerve impulses and reduces brain activity in general. “After a limited amount of time playing a violent video game, a player can automatically prime aggressive thoughts”. As a result, children stop adequately feeling the difference between virtual and real violence. Having passed through many computer battles, overcoming all monsters, a child keeps struggling in real life. He/she puts himself/herself above all: parents, adults, friends and considers himself/herself to be the master of the Universe. Such children are in serious trouble: they do not even realize that they cannot adapt to real life. Douglas A. Gentile (2003) states that “people (both children and adults) exposed to a lot of violent entertainment tend to become meaner, more aggressive, and more violent.”
Besides, video games negatively affect people’s health. According to Kai-Ping Wang (2013), “In Korea, a 28-year-old man died from exhaustion after marathon sessions of an online game known as an MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game).”
Why do children start playing computer games? One may say that it happens because video games are extremely interesting. However, the most important reason is that children just have nothing else to do. Let us look back on the sixtieth. How did teenagers spend their leisure time? Did they know anything about video games? No, they even did not know what a computer was, but they were happy. They used to do things which are not interesting for today’s children; for instance, they used to read exciting books, spent a lot of time with their friends, and went to the theater and movie. As a result, they have far more unforgettable memories than modern children have. Perhaps, those things can serve as an alternative to the media. Parents should care about their children because they are in charge of creating their happy future.
In order to counteract the negative effect of media on children, parents, community organizations, and government structures need to work together. However, if parents fail to pay considerable attention to their children, and the family atmosphere is not based on trust and love, no bans from the government will work. Nowadays, almost 76 % of parents are not interested in what their children do while watching television or surfing the net. However, it happens not because parents do not care about their children; it happens because they do not know what media really means.
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