The subject of television violence and its potential effect on children has long been a subject of controversy. Congressional studies were carried out in 1954, 1961, 1970, and 1977. When the Surgeon General’s Report on Television and Social Behavior was published in 1972, four of the five volumes were devoted to studies dealing with the effects of viewing violent television programs. Indeed, most seminars, articles, and studies considering the effects of television on children focus on this single issue.
The intense interest in the effects of television violence upon children is understandable: the number of juveniles arrested for serious and violent crimes increase 1600 percent between the years 1952 and 1972, according to FBI figures.1 In a landmark study made at the Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law at the University of Pennsylvania, two large groups of urban youth were compared, one of which reached adulthood in the 1960s and the other in the 1970s. The more recent group showed three times the rate of murder and other violence than the 1960s group.2 Since the period between 1952 and 1972 was the very time when television became ascendent in the lives of American children, with children who reached adulthood in 1960 still essentially in the pre-television generation, and since the programs children watch are saturated with crime and destruction, it has long seemed reasonable to search for a link between the two.
As a professor of law and sociology stated in a response to the suggestion that television is a contributing factor to juvenile violence: “I’m not suggesting a direct connection [with television] but it’s inconceivable that there is no effect.”
There are indeed reasons to believe that television is deeply implicated in the upsurge of juvenile aggression, particularly in the development of a new and frightening breed of juvenile offender, but those searching for a direct link between violent programs and violent actions are on a wrong track. The experience of television itself (regardless of content) and its effects upon a child’s perception of reality may be a more profitable line of inquiry.
Exerpt from The Plug-in Drug by Marie Winn
1. “Skyrocketing Juvenile Crime,” The New York Times, February 21, 1975.
2. Bryce Nelson, “Children who Kill”, The New York Times, October 11, 1983.
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