American children watch an average of three to fours 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; and
• Identify with certain characters, victims and/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 the child's behavior or may surface years later, and 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.
Parents can protect children from excessive TV violence in the following ways:
• Pay attention to the programs their 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 the children see shows known to be violent, and 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 type of program 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, because 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 child and adolescent psychiatrist for help defining the problem.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides this important information as a public service to assist parents and families in their most important roles. It is neither ethical nor responsible to use the Internet for consultation about specific children or families. The Facts for families sheets may be duplicated and distributed free of charge as long as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is properly credited and no profit is gained from their use.