Wisconsin Parent/Guardian Descriptions of Children's Behavior Related to the Viewing of Television News
Sims, Judy R.
Wisconsin Communication Association
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Between 1987 and 1998, children committed numerous school shootings–killing or wounding classmates, teachers, and principals. Research suggests a consistent and causal relationship between viewing TV violence and increased levels of aggressive behavior in children and adolescents (Comstock, 1990, 1982, 1975; Atkin, 1983). Sources of violent content in U.S. culture are abundant, e.g., children hear violent messages in music lyrics; they see violence in films, the Internet, TV dramas, and TV news. In 1998, children potentially were exposed to countless TV news stories containing violent images, stories featuring bloody bodies from bombings in Northern Ireland, fatal shootings in the U.S. Capitol, schoolyard killings, children murdering their parents, and more. This study concerning children and TV news as a source of violent content examined the descriptions and opinions of a sample of Wisconsin parents and/or legal guardians of children ages 3-12; it attempted to replicate results from a 1993 national study about TV violence released by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press. To gather data, a survey questionnaire was administered in 1994 to a sample of 877 parents or legal guardians of children ages 3-12 in west-central Wisconsin. Respondents were asked–for example–to describe their child’s TV viewing behavior related to local and national news, their opinions concerning the amount of violence in newscasts, their beliefs about the amount of violence and its actual existence in reality, and whether action was taken to switch the channel or turn off the TV because of something they did not want their child to see on the news. Eight of the questions included on the questionnaire were identical to those on the Times Mirror instrument. Of the 877 questionnaires distributed, 351 were returned; although achieving only a 40% response rate, evidence exists to claim a representative sample. Quantitative data were analyzed with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences; qualitative data were content-analyzed. Results revealed a majority (58%) of Wisconsin parents/guardians thought national TV news “contains too much violence.” These results supported findings from the Times Mirror (1993) study, which found a majority of U.S. Americans (52%) thought “TV news is too full of violence.” Results from the Wisconsin study also showed that significantly more female than male parents/guardians described the national news as “containing too much violence.” Other findings revealed a majority (54%) of the Wisconsin respondents thought TV new reporting "does not exaggerate the amount of violence in the U.S." These findings replicated results from the Times Mirror (1993) study in which a majority (55%) of the respondents judged TV news “as not exaggerating the amount of violence in the country but accurately reflecting social reality.” In addition, results indicated a majority (54%) of Wisconsin respondents switched the channel or turned off the TV because of something on the news they did not want their child to see, and a majority (74%) of those stated the main reason was violent news content. These results closely matched the Times Mirror (1993) study, which found a majority (53%) of the subjects reported having switched the channel or turned off the TV because of news content, and a majority (75%) of those indicated the main reason was violent news content. It is imperative that parents understand the pervasiveness and potential influence of violent content in their child’s culture. As stated by one psychologist, “when violent action is all [children] see, the lesson they learn is that everybody does it and this is the way to behave” (Cowley, 1998, 25). As incidences of children engaging in violent and/or aggressive behavior continue to occur, further examination of media portrayals of violence is needed. “Family sensitive newscasts” in which broadcasters can responsibly inform, without negatively influencing children, should be explored. (Contains: 41 References, Five Tables, and Five Notes)
Children and TV news
Children and TV violence
Children’s viewing of TV news
Hours of TV viewing by children
Local TV news violence
Mean World Syndrome
National TV news violence
Television violence and aggressive behavior in children
Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press
Violence and TV news
Violent content in TV newscasts
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