Censorship and children: The viewing of violence and inappropriate material Most people would agree that media channelling is not suitable for all types of audiences. For instance, there need to be some limitations placed on the type and contents of media which young children are exposed to. The media which is accessible to a wide and varied audience (television programmes being shown before the watershed) should not contain elements which might be offensive. This is the practice of censorship.
The average child watches three to four hours of television daily. Couple that with Internet surfing and the potential exposure to violence and inappropriate content is much greater. Our society has been bombarded with violence from the beginning of time. Concerns about violence in the media have been around before television and the internet were introduced. Back in ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato believed that exposure to the emotions of the arts (especially drama) would encourage people to act out violent emotions portrayed in the drama.
As documented in his work The Republic, Plato believed strongly that the perfect life was comprised of balance and harmony in and that any stimulated emotions would result in an imbalance. The first theorist to challenge Plato’s idea was his well-known student, Aristotle. Aristotle’s view was the opposite of Plato’s and he felt that exposure to the strong emotions of the arts had a positive psychological effect on people. Aristotle thought it gave them a chance to let out any emotional frustrations that they might have bottled up inside. Nor can there be a doubt that the younger will not strike or do any other violence to an elder, unless the magistrates command him; nor will he slight him in any way. For there are two guardians, shame and fear, mighty to prevent him; shame, which makes men refrain from laying hands on those who are to them in the relation of parents. ” (Plato, The Republic) There have been numerous studies and research done over the years on television and the internet, and the issue still remains. Researchers do acknowledge that violence portrayed on television is a potential danger.
One issue is clear though, our focus on television and internet violence should not take attention away from other significant causes of violence in our country such as: drugs, inadequate parenting, availability of weapons, unemployment, etc. Firstly let’s look at television violence and the effect this may have on children. It is hard to report on how violent television effects society, since television affects different people in different ways. There is a significant problem with violence on television that we as a society are going to have to acknowledge and face.
Children are the most vulnerable members of the viewing public. Once the television is switched on and a program is being viewed, few children will turn to another channel if the program being aired is unsuitable. Prurient content is almost irresistible to any child and even if it is scary, the child might remain glued to the screen until the program is ended, by which time the damage is done. There have been studies on the influence of media violence since the 1950’s, when television viewing first cemented itself onto the viewing public.
The force behind media violence research is the theory that aggressive behaviour in cartoons, video games, movies, and now the internet, will encourage the same tendencies in children. How strong the relationship between media violence and children’s aggressive behaviour is actually debatable. The dramatic increase in interpersonal violence in the past century has occurred at the same time as other dramatic changes in life-styles produced by the great technological revolutions of the 20th Century. Among the most notable of these for child development has been the introduction of the mass visual media into children’s everyday life.
One of the earliest studies on media violence dates back to 1956. Twelve children were shown a relatively aggressive cartoon; Woody the Woodpecker, and twelve viewed The Little Red Hen. Researchers found that those who watched the more violent television show imitated this behaviour in play. These children were throwing toys and being more aggressive to other children. This experiment, although in sync with later, more developed studies, was only a limited display of the influence of media violence on children. Coleman, B) Since then research has become much more dynamic, using more natural settings, and observing children for longer periods of time. These are referred to as longitudinal field studies in which children’s exposure to media violence and their aggressive behaviour are assessed at two or more points in their lives.
One such study, started in 1960, by the University of Michigan professor, Leonard Eron, observed the evolution of violent behaviour over a period of twenty years. His conclusion showed the same results in that children who consistently viewed aggressive rogramming at home were more likely to become violent adults, and even to commit serious crimes. (Eron, L) When two highly salient events occur, it is common to hypothesize a casual relationship between them; so it is not surprising that speculation about the role of media violence in stimulating violent behaviour has been prevalent ever since motion pictures depicting violent acts first were distributed. (Huesmann, R p154) One of the most infamous examples of children perhaps ‘copying’ a violent scene from a film is the brutal murder of James Bulgar.
The film Child’s Play 3 has been indirectly linked with the Bulgar case. The schoolboy killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were 10-years- old at the time were said to have imitated a scene from the film where one of Chucky’s victims is splashed with blue paint. Although the allegations against the film have never been proven, the case led to some new legislation for video films, The Amendment to the Video Recordings Act, contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994).
We are struck by the realisation that there are largely two different worlds of content – the protective, educational, and prosocial bubble provided by media for very young (infants, preschoolers, and children of early elementary age) and the sometimes harsh and often sensationalised material of media for older children, teenagers, and the general audience (music television, internet sites, primetime television, video games).
The two exist with little buffer forcing an abrupt change when ‘children’s media’ are no longer satisfying. (Comstock and Scharrer 2007, p177) In the United States, a standard definition of violence, adopted by the Cultural Indicators Project in the 1960s, was that violence is ‘the overt expression of physical force, with or without weapon, against self or other, compelling action against one’s will on pain of being hurt or killed, or actually hurting or killing’.
Researchers in the United States, as in the United Kingdom, have since sought to distinguish between overt violence and aggression. The three-year National Television Violence Study in the United States was an extensive, and influential, review of research as well as a content analysis of violence in entertainment programmes. The project team defined violence as: Any overt depiction of a credible threat of physical force or the actual use of such force intended to physically harm an animate being or group of beings. Livingstone ; Millwood Hargrave, p. 63) In coming to a conlusion about the role of television in children’s lives and its possible effects and influences, Comstock and Scharrer note a sharp divide between content designed for young children and that made available to older children (from about 10 years of age). Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis (2005) based in the United Kingdom, look at international research reviews from a public-health perspective.
In their short, useful overview, highlighting the complexities of the research, they suggest there is consistent evidence that violent imagery in television, film, video/DVD, and computer games may have substantial short-term effects such as ‘arousal, thoughts and emotions, increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behaviour in younger children, especially in boys’. Nevertheless, they also say that there is only weak evidence that links media violence directly to crime. Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis) The UNESCO study is a major contribution to the growing body of evidence that violence in the media does have a harmful impact on children, recognizing that this effect can vary by gender and by the kind of surroundings in which children are living. Many countries of the world have taken steps to introduce regulations, or to pressure the media to adopt forms of self-regulation, to curb the level and amount of violence to which children are exposed on television.
The United States has made it mandatory that V-chips be included in all new television sets sold in the country. These allow parents to program their television sets to screen out broadcasts rated above a certain level for violent or erotic material. (UNESCO) It is not only children who are perceived as being ‘at risk’ but the institution of childhood itself…. (thus) risk anxiety helps construct childhood and maintain boundaries. (Livingstone, S. P. 4) The internet is filled with dangerous information, that children should never have the freedom to access.
Children learn from example, and if they search, watch, or read something on the web that could be potentially dangerous, they could be influenced or curious and think that it would be alright to imitate one day. If our children now are viewing these things, it could mean that our future generations can grow to be more violent and our world could become more dangerous than it already is today. Censorship is necessary if we plan on having our kids grow up in the safest environment possible. Of course like any good thing, the Internet comes with its ups and downs.
The internet is a wonderful learning tool, when used correctly, and there are several things that aren’t suitable for any child on the internet including violent material. Despite the considerable difference between the internet and other media in terms of the diversity and range of Internet content, relatively little empirical research exists that examines the potentially harmful impact of Internet content on the public, in contrast to the considerable volume of research on the harmful effects of more established mass media.
Most families would agree that the care and nurture of the child resides first with the parent. On the other hand, the widespread availability of the Internet presents opportunities for minors to access materials through the World Wide Web in a manner that can frustrate parental supervision or control, for example, at the local public library. The protection of the physical and psychological well- being of minors by shielding them from materials that are harmful to them is a compelling interest to most parents.
To date, while the industry has developed innovative ways to help parents and educators restrict material that is harmful to minors through parental control protections and self-regulation, such efforts have not provided a national solution to the problem of minors accessing harmful material on the World Wide Web. Notwithstanding the existence of protections that limit the distribution over the World Wide Web of material that is harmful to minors, parents, educators, and industry must continue efforts to find ways to protect children from being exposed to harmful material found on the Internet.
The internet is very popular with children and young people and it offers a range of opportunities for fun, learning and development. But there are concerns over potentially inappropriate material, which range from content (e. g. violence) through to contact and conduct of children in the digital world. There is no ‘silver bullet’. Neither Government nor industry can make the internet completely safe. The nature of the internet means that there will always be risks, and children and parents need to understand how to manage the risks of the internet.
As such, policies that claim to make the internet completely safe are undesirable because they discourage children and parents from taking an informed approach to managing the risks. At worst they can be dangerous – lulling parents into a false sense of security and leaving children exposed to a greater level of risk than they would otherwise be. (Byron report) Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe – this isn’t just about a top-down approach. Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks.
At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim. (Byron report) The amount and availability of sexually explicit material on the Internet has grown considerably in recent years, this spanning health-related and educational content as well as that commonly labelled pornographic. (Barak and Fisher, 2003) The evidence that media violence has an adverse effect on children is overwhelming. Over the past fifty years, researchers have proven this repeatedly; yet, there is no less violence in the media today.
Is there a solution, a positive answer to a negative problem? Of course there is. It is the effort of parents, caretakers, teachers, media makers, and society to communicate positive messages to today’s youth. It is the acceptance of this responsibility. It is the discussion, on both a personal and a public level, about the nature and reality of what violence truly is. Through confident use of communications technologies people will gain a better understanding of the world around them and be better able to engage with it. Ofcom, 2004) In conclusion, parents can limit the effects of media violence by paying attention to what their children are watching, forbidding shows known to be violent, pointing out that violent acts aren’t real and condemning them whenever witnessing them in programming. Violence on T. V. is very common today as it was 50 years ago. It is very difficult to actually say how television violence affects its viewers. Television programs have different effects on different people. There are also a number of other factors that influence the way television affects people such as: attitudes, knowledge, interests, how much television is watched.
It cannot be suggested that this phenomenon of television violence is a single, significant cause of the affects on society. Inappropriate content on the internet is also common. Parents should be wary of what their children are looking up and site blocks should be in put in place. It is going to take a lot more than rating, advisories, and cleaning up television schedules to deal and prevent the problem of violence and inappropriate content online. We should not blame television and internet content while ignoring our own responsibilities as parents, caretakers, and adults.
I concur with the ideas of Plato, being that the media has become such an influential authority in our society, and the constant exposure to violent behaviour within the media is creating numbness to it, especially within our children, who are less able to distinguish between factual and fictional. Our society, beginning with a child’s parents, should become stricter with limiting exposure to violent visual entertainment, and only allow a moderate, if any, amount of violence to be seen by impressionable children and young adults.