by: Michael Kabel
It's a problem almost as old as the medium itself: how much television is too much for children, and how much violence can their pressimionable minds handle viewing on the screen? The question becomes more profound for today's parents, who likely grew up binging on such television shows themselves.
Americans especially are a television culture. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that children on average view three to four hours of television each day. That's a powerful influence on their perspective, and almost as present a force in their daily lives as school and other activities. But too much television, as with excessive amounts of so many kinds of sensory stimulation, can often result in a deleterious effect on children's fragile psyches.
Parents are forewarned, but must use that information at their discretion.
Steps have been taken in recent years to more effectively police the amount of violence on television and to caution parents with a ratings system that informs them of programming content matter. Nevertheless, the ratings are meant to serve as guidelines, and shouldn't be taken as an objective evaluation of the program's contents. Parents need to be further aware when allowing their children to watch some programming that the violence depicted is often brutal and graphic, though in some cases (for example, a program about World War II) it may serve a larger instructional purpose.
There are times when the abundance of viewing violence itself becomes a problem, however.
Recognizing the effects of too much television violence.
The AACAP says too much exposure to violence can create a cluster of problems related to children's healthy socialization. These problems include a depressed awareness of violence's unacceptability as a problem-solving tool; and a numbness to acts of violence committed around them. In addition, this mental saturation can cause children to come to identify with either victims or victimizers on the shows they watch, and even to imitate the violence they see on television.
And the desensitizing isn't limited to passive acceptance, either. Children who watch too much violent television are more aggressive and more prone to confrontation. This is especially true in cases where the child has a learning disorder, impulse problem, or other challenge to their successful development.
Dealing with the violence on television.
Ultimately, parents are in control of what their children watch simply by maintaining authority over the remote control. By policing what the children watch and curbing the amount of violence they're allowed to view, parents are able to repress the negative effects.
In addition, parents should also be prepared to act as a voice of realism when the family views programming in which the violence becomes sensationalized or tawdry. Parents should point out that while on television or film the violence may look glamorous or exciting, in reality such events would often result in intense pain and suffering. They should also point out that violent acts are seldom so sensational in real life, and that television shows and films often exaggerate certain elements (acting, gore, special effects, et cetera) as a cheap means to increase dramatic tension.
Parents should also remember and remind their children that they have the prerogative to turn the program or film off if the violence becomes too intense, sensationalized, or graphic.