Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Is TV Viewing Connected to Violence and Risky Behavior?

Category: Child Care


In the news recently, there has been much attention focused on the connection between TV viewing and a possible increase in violent behavior. Over 3,000 studies were sited during last month's Congressional hearings which indicate there is a definite connection. Statistics show that the average elementary graduate has seen 8,000 murders in living color and the average high school graduate has seen over 20,000. Apparently, the effect on children of repeated TV viewing of violence is unique to each individual. Some children are highly susceptible and will be affected markedly. Others seemingly can watch violence and have no noticeable effect. Personally, I believe repetition, over time, probably has some effect on everyone. Young children (up to age six) seem to be most susceptible. They may not be able to distinguish fact from fiction. Some may even develop a post-traumatic stress disorder which can affect them for years after seeing one single viewing. A good example of this is a show like Jurassic Park which is extremely scary and realistic. It may be cute for a 13 year old but could scare the wits out of a 5 year old. Unfortunately the PG 13 rating is not tightly enforced and many parents through ignorance bring children to such shows.

As parents, we must control our children's exposure to so much violence. The average American child spends close to 4 hours per day in front of TV. Surprisingly, "children's TV" is the most violent, averaging 26 violent acts per hour compared to 5 per hour during prime time. What other social ills might be linked to heavy TV viewing? The American Academy of Pediatrics feels it is an important contributor to childhood obesity. Studies show a 2% increase in obesity for each additional viewing hour.

Is a youth's attitude toward sexuality affected by TV and videos? Consider that the average teen sees 14,000 sexual references per year with less than 150 dealing with abstinence, contraception or responsibility. It's not surprising then that a recent study of 3000 adolescents at the University of Rochester School of Medicine documented a direct link between risky behavior and media use. The risky behavior included sexual intercourse, drinking, smoking of cigarettes and marijuana, cheating, stealing, cutting class, and driving a car without permission. The teens who engaged in the most risky behaviors, listened to the most radio (particularly heavy metal) and watched the most videos and movies on TV. They averaged 40 hours per week TV and almost 40 hours per week of radio.

Another study published in the July 93 Journal of Pediatrics showed that unsupervised teens were at more risk for substance abuse, depression, risk taking and lower grades. For all these reasons, we should as parents get behind a societal shift away from so much TV, video and music violence. In the meantime, we must monitor and limit our children's viewing time even into their teen years.