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This is a question that has been asked over and over again. Many people, to this day, are still debating whether a child is truly influenced by the media. There is no doubt that the media has an impact on a child, but does it really influence them to act out even though they know it’s wrong? Is the media that influential that it can make a child do something they would never think of doing, if not seen on the television? According to Dr. Susan Villani (1999), “there is an established body of evidence documenting the troubling behavioral effects of repeated exposure to media violence.”
It is important to know the history of television, therefore, here is a brief history of how the media began and where it is today. In 1927, congress introduced the U.S. broadcasting system to “help serve the public interest, convince, and/or necessity” (Lisosky, 2001). According to the FCC, 1996 (as cited in Lisosky 2001), in 1960, the FCC issued a policy statement, addressing child programming. The FCC made it the broadcaster’s responsibility to provide programs for the child audience.
In 1967, congress presented the U.S. with the Public Broadcasting Act. This act was intended to; according to Lisosky (2001) the television set has two purposes. One purpose is to provide a voice for those in the community who haven’t been heard. The other purpose is to increase understanding of the world, whether it is the surrounding states, countries, or even other nations.
In 1974, the Report and Policy Statement was issued. The purpose of this statement was to improve children’s television environment in the United States. Again in the 1980s the United States affected television by eliminating all major requirements for advertising. This essentially allowed the broadcaster’s to rely on the marketplace to decide which children programs should be shown. Then in the 1990s, congress passed the Children’s Television Act. This act restricted adverting during children’s programs. This Act also enforced networks to supply children with educational and informational programs and established a fund, known today as the Government-Supported Fund. Finally, in 1996, the FCC required commercial stations to air at least three hours per week of educational and informational programming as a condition of license renewal (Lisosky, 2001).
In all these years, with all these Laws, Acts, and Statements being issued, passed and enforced, why is there still a problem with children watching television? The answer is because they were issued but not enforced. An example of this would be, according to Head and Sterling, 1985 (as cited in Lisosky 2001), “the networks most celebrated series, Sesame Street. In 1969, commercial networks originally turned down the award-winning childrens program because they felt advertisers would not be interested in a program narrowly focused on such a small segment of the population.”
Now that we have a better understanding of the history of the media, we can now explore the on going debate on the question, is the media educational or harmful? Many psychologists will agree that the media has become more and more harmful to the younger generations. For instance, Dr. Ruth Mock (1970), states, “television is the one influence, common to us all today, which replaces the social, religious, and political meetings and festivals which were potent expressions in the past.”
In the argument that the media is educational, Dr. Susan Villani (2001), “…media education may result in young people becoming less vulnerable to negative aspects of media exposure.” Research has found that television enhances a child’s imagination. Television puts new ideas into children’s heads causing them to create a whole new set of ideas. According to Teresa Belton, author of the journal article, Media, Culture, & Society, believes that written fiction like action adventure, crime, romance, horror, and science fiction can be as much of a genre as television and film. Researchers have found that children with a high aptitude of imagination pulled their ideas from books and/or their own lives to create their own “made-up” stories (Belton, 2001). With that in mind, the purpose of this study is to find out if the media does in fact affect the way a child behaves and how much television it takes to create this behavior.
The participants that I used were students that were currently enrolled in the before and after school program at Pershing Elementary School, located in the city of Saint Joseph, Missouri. The ages of these kids ranged from five years old to 12 years old. There were a total of 18 boys and 7 girls that participated in this study.
The materials I used for this study included a clip from the videotape of Tom & Jerry’s 50th Birthday Classics II (MGM/UNA, 1990) and a grid that explained what behavior was conducted and by what child (See Appendix A). This grid includes all the children’s names along the x-axis and along the y-axis you will find all the possible behaviors that they could demonstrate. After the video, I used a set of questions to assess how many hours of television each child watches (See Appendix B). In order for a child to participate, he/she had to have their parent(s) sign a consent form allowing them to participate in the study (See Appendix C).
I assessed each child’s behavior 15-20 minutes prior to showing him/her a 20-30 second clip of the cartoon, Frady Cat. I was looking for any type of aggressive behavior, such as, hitting, kicking, name-calling, and etc. I then showed each child the 20-30 second clip and observed his/her behavior while watching the clip. This clip had violent acts in it such as, hitting, pushing, and chasing. I then, once again, assessed each child’s behavior for 15-20 minutes after the clip. All three assessments had the same evaluation form (See Appendix A). Placing a check mark on the evaluation form, next to a child’s name simply meant that, that specific child demonstrated that specific behavior at that specific time.
After evaluating each child’s behavior and after the cartoon clip was been shown, I asked each child individually, how often they watched television throughout the week and asked them to tell me their three favorite television shows. By doing this I had a better idea on how much each child watches television throughout the week.
Results of this study indicate that media does have an impact on a child’s behavior and in fact can alter his/her behavior as shown by a cartoon.
This study clearly supports the idea of television having a negative impact on a child’s behavior (Villani, 2001).
One limitation to this study would be the length of time the children were observed during the video clip. The children were only observed 20-30 seconds while the cartoon was actually being shown. Whereas, the amount of time the children were observed for the pre and post video was 15-20 minutes. Thus, comparisons between the during and pre-post condition are confounded. This limitation may also limit the generality.
If this study were to be done again in the future I would suggest that a video clip of a unknown cartoon should be used. I suggest this because then the chances of the children expecting something to happen is lessen due to the unfamiliarity of it.
Lisosky, J. M. (2001). For all kid’s sakes: comparing children’s television policy-making in Australia, Canada, and the United States. Media, Culture, & Society, 23, 821-842.
MGM/UNA (1990). Tom & Jerry’s 50th Birthday Classics II. MGM/UNA, Colver City, CA.
Mock, R. (1970). Education and the imagination. London: Chatton and Windus.
Villani, S. (1999). Violence in the media. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,38,1208.
Villani, S. (2001). Impact of media on children and adolescents: A 10-year review of the research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,40 392-401.
|Author Contact Information:Psychology Department at Missouri Western State College|