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Does Watching TV Make Kids Violent?
April 18th, 2010

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Dear John,

I’ve heard you on the radio today, and was surprised that you seemed so down on TV. You seemed to be saying that the more TV children watch, the more likely they will become violent. But don’t you think fantasizing about aggression might let off steam and function as an outlet for them, and actually lessen the chance they will act out their aggressions? I know most of the programming is basically for idiots, but don’t you think there’s some value in the better shows? What did you do with you son? Did you let him watch TV?

Lorraine

Dear Lorraine,

Thanks for your questions. Television is obviously a dominant force in our society today, and a challenging one for parents wanting to raise children to be self-reliant and capable of resolving conflicts without violence.

In the interview you heard, I was talking about a report published in the journal Science on March 22, 2002. In this major study, researchers at Iowa State University at Ames found a stunning correlation between the amount of TV adolescents watch, and the likelihood they will become violent.

“People think the correlation is trivial,” said Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology at Iowa State. But “the correlation between violent media and aggression is larger than the effect that wearing a condom has on decreasing the risk of HIV. It’s larger than the correlation between exposure to lead and decreased IQs in kids. It’s larger than the effects of exposure to asbestos. It’s larger than the effect of second-hand smoke on cancer.”

The study followed 700 young people over a 16 year period. They found that youths who watched between one and three hours of TV a day were more than four times as likely to become involved in aggressive acts as those who watched less than an hour a day. The aggression rate for those who watched more than three hours a day was significantly higher yet.

They didn’t have a category for kids who didn’t watch at all, but I’m sure their rate of aggression would have been lowest of all.

When my son was growing up, we didn’t own a TV. Instead, we read him stories, and taped them on audiocassettes. He had a little tape player of his own, and, while he played, he would spend many hours listening again and again to the stories and books we had recorded. Did he feel deprived? Not in the slightest. I know, because he’s told me, and because this is the way he is choosing to raise his own children, too. We have a TV now, but it’s kept put away, and brought out only occasionally, to watch videos and certain special shows.

If you’re interested in the effect television on all of us, there’s a great book you might want to look at. It’s by Jerry Mander, and has the provocative title of Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television.

All the best,

John

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