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Sex and Violence on Television

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Sex and Violence on Television: Are the affects on Children all bad?

The Issue

How does the saying go? “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” There is no question that the controversy of violence among today’s youth is colossal. There are many studies that point to sex and violence in the media as the cause of this problem. Yet there are also several studies that suggest that the affects of TV violence on children and teens are minimal or may be beneficial in some ways. This paper will review literature from both sides of the controversy not for the sake of defending one side over the other but for the purpose of unveiling what makes the issue so controversial by exploring some of the questions regarding who are the people that have a stance on the issue, why might someone take a strong stance, and discuss what previous researches conclude about the influence of media sex and violence on children’s behavior.

Summary of Internet Information
For about half a century, Congress has wrestled with the perceived negative influences of television on society, particularly its youth. The responses to this divergence in the past have ranged from banning indecent content and restricting offensive speech to condensing the rights of the broadcast industry. Television violence, the most recent and pressing issue to date for the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is the conflict between protecting children from the potentially harmful influence of exposure to sex and violence, and the First Amendment rights of the television broadcasters. Among the rights contained in the First Amendment of the Constitution is the Freedom of Speech. This means that television networks have the right to broadcast whatever material they want including violent or sexual-related material but only to a degree (Scott, 1996). Television viewers argue that if networks were forced to remove violence from their shows, then they would be denied their freedom of speech.

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the Freedom of Speech. The problem though is that it is too broad and not well defined. While doctrines have risen about from the Supreme Court in an effort to define the extent of the First Amendment and the protection for Freedom of Speech is that there are different types of speech and depending on the speech, some may be defined as protected expression. Yet full First Amendment protection for some speech does not extend to broadcasting. To add to the clash, there is the growing concern revolving around children as part of the viewing audience and the affects that indecent content on television may be having on them.

Statistics show that there is abundant evidence from over 3,000 research studies over past decades that have shown that sexual-related material and violence depicted on television affect the attitudes and behaviors of children who view it (Huesmann, Moise-Titus, Podolski, & Eron, 2003). The results of one of the most extensive studies ever done on the topic of violence on television were released in 2003 when researchers followed 329 subjects over 15 years. They found that children that were exposed to violence on television were more likely to be convicted of crime as adults. They also found that girls that watched excessive television containing violence tended to throw things at their husbands while boys who grew up watching violent television shows were more likely to be violent with their wives. The researches ultimately concluded that violent television shows increased the likelihood of children growing up and behaving more aggressively.

According to other studies, the typical child will witness more than 200,000 televised acts of violence, including over 16,000 murders, before reaching adulthood. Nevertheless some research say that underdeveloped social skills are the reason that some children exhibit more aggression than others and that violent content on television is not to blame. Murray, J. (1994) and Anderson, et al. (2003) posit that even short-term exposure to violent television viewing increases the likelihood of greater aggressive behavior. The author of the research says that all children are born with violent tendencies, but most children are able to learn appropriate and adequate social skills that help them to learn to control impulses to act out aggression. In contrast, children born with deficient or damaged genes are more likely to be negatively affected by the violent content on television and will be less able to develop the necessary behavioral skills that would counter the impulse for aggressive behavior.

While some people believe that sex and violence negatively affect children, others believe that the affect may be beneficial in some ways in that there is a potential for children to learn morale values and life lessons from violent content and understand that bad acts are punishable. For instance, when children view television that contains violence between the good guy and the bad guy, children tend to identify with the hero. They want to be like the good guys and some researcher say that this teaches children positive character development. Some people believe that children can learn social skills through watching television shows that portray violence if there is an important message in the program.

Unsurprisingly, there are those that hold a strong stance on the issue of sex and violence on television and they include parents and other caregivers, social conservative groups as well as child advocacy organizations such as the Dove Foundation. The Parent Television Council (PTC) is an organization whose mission is to provide parents with tools and information that they could use to make decisions about their children’s television viewing patterns. The PTC feels that there is too much unnecessary violence and sexual content on television and that it is affecting youth in a damaging way. The PTC monitors television programming and takes note of content that may be considered questionable by parents. The PTC also provides ratings for television programming as a way to indicated how much sex or violence are integrated into a particular program. One of the goals of the PTC is to decrease the graphic sexual themes and language, the portrayal of violence, and the obscene dialogue that has been increasing in even the family type programs.

Summary of the Research Study

The question of whether or not sex and violence on television have an effect on children has been studied for decades (Murray, J. 1994). The present research that was reviewed in this paper examined parents’ attitudes of certain scenes in television programs that may be categorized as violent, sexual in nature or family-oriented as opposed to considering whole television shows as violent or sexually oriented in nature. This study explored what type of specific scenes parents were willing to allow their children to watch, and the type of communication that parents had with children in respect to scene-specific television watching. This research also looked at demographic characteristics associated with parents that allowed their children to watch certain scene-specific television.

The current study recruited parents from a diverse group of online parenting communities. An online parenting community is a website where members interact with one another regarding parenting issues (Hust, Wong, & Chen 2011). Participants completed an online survey related to parenting and television. Parents were asked on a 7-point scale the likelihood that they would let their children watch different types of scene-specific content on television. The content was categorized into sexual-related, violent related and family-oriented scenes. Parents indicated the likelihood in which they would allow their child to watch a program that contained scenes from the three areas. The scene descriptions were organized in random order through the online survey system.

The first question that this study tried to answer involved what scene-specific content parents were willing to let their children watch on television. The second question involved looking at the types of demographic characteristics that were associated with the parents’ likeliness to let their children watch programming that contained scenes from one of the three categories. The current research also had several hypotheses that revolved around the framework of family communication patterns (FCP) or ways of how families used communication as a tool to educate their children in terms of how they view the world by interpreting messages from the media (Hust, Wong, & Chen, 2011).

In reference to question one, parents were more likely to let their children watch family-oriented content on television and less likely to let their children was sexually-related content and violent content on television. Regarding question two, there were three demographic characteristics that were associated with parents’ approval to watch violent content including gender, having a child in elementary school and having a child under age two. There were two demographic characteristics that were associated with parents’ approval to allow their children to watch sexually-related content and they included age, and the number of children in the family. There were no demographic characteristics included in the research that was associated with parent’s willingness to let their children watch family-oriented content.

Results of the present study concluded that family structure and family communication were positively associated with parents’ choice to let their children watch certain scene specific content on television. These conclusions are valuable in that they point out that all violent or sexually-related content is not created equal. This research highlights the importance of family involvement and how parent communication with children as an intervention can be useful for blocking potential negative affects of certain content viewed on television and the messages that children may be receiving from it.

The focus of this paper was to shed light on some of the debates that rises from the issue of sex and violence on television. While there are points on both sides of the issue of broadcasting acts of indecent or inappropriate content on television, an important point to consider is the parents’ role for childrearing in a society that does not show any upcoming means for minimizing the amount of popular television programming that may contain scenes that are unsuitable for younger viewers.

Critical Analysis of Internet Information and Research Study
Much of the information from the Internet either discussed how television with violent and sexual content negatively affect children and adolescents or how the effects were minimal or insignificant and had no long-term or lasting affects. Some Internet sources were backed by factual evidence that was strong while some Internet sources some lacked evidence to support the information that was stated. For instance, discussing the First Amendment and the Freedom of Speech was used to support the sex and violence on television and the FCC and the Broadcasters’ rights to create and air these kinds of programs that would lead to higher ratings.

Some information was lacking from the Internet sources that were included in this paper such as the reason that some people take such a strong stance against sex and violence on television. Other information that was lacking was support for factual information and descriptions of the affects that sex and violence have on children aside from greater aggression in terms of violence. In terms of sexual-related content on television, there was not much discussion about the affects on children. Discussion backed by evidence about how children are affected in beneficial ways was somewhat broad in many of the Internet sources that were presented in this paper considering that the intentions of this paper was to look at both of the issue.

The current study was interesting because it narrowed down the concept of sex and violence in television programming to scene-specific content in television shows. The decision to examine the latter was a different way of considering content that may be considered unsuitable for children. However, this decision also seemed to indicate that there was a difference between “shows” categorized as violent and sexual in nature and “specific scenes” being categorized as having the same type of content. The research lacked a basis for explaining why it was more useful to examine scenes containing violent and sexual content than examining television shows that regularly contained sex and violence. The research did however provide examples of the type of scenes that were listed under the categories of sexually oriented, violent oriented and family oriented themes. Conclusion
The questions that were explored in this paper revolved around different debates on the topic of sex and violence in the media and the affects on children including who were the people that took a strong stance on the issue. Many of the questions were answered for this paper and the answers were not surprising. It is a well known fact that sex plus violence equals action and action leads to ratings and ratings translate to profits for networkers and broadcasters. Nor is it surprising that ridding television of sex and violence interferes with Freedom of Speech. But evidence from the research that this paper looked at revealed that there were a number of parents that were willing to allow their children to watch television programming that consist of sexual-related material and violence. The rationale for parents’ willingness had a lot to do with family structure and communication with children about what is being shown on television.

What was still unclear about the current topic is in reference to the people who took a stance on children being negatively influenced by sex and violence on television and why they felt that television was to blame without looking at other factors. Maybe the type of programming on television has changed over the years but so has much of the world. This paper mentioned one way in which children may be affected by sex and violence on television but other ways children are influenced may not be all bad. Both sides of the controversy believe that children can learn from messages in television programming. But, whatever way you look at it, television does have a huge influence, and it does so by working in conjunction with other factors and more research need to explore such variables.

Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Huesmann, R., Johnson, J. D., Linz, D.,
Malamuth, N. M., & Wartella, E. (2003). Media Violence: Psychological Science in the Public Interest, (in press)
Huesmann, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C., & Eron, L. D. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221.
Hust, S. T., Wong, W., & Chen, Y. (2011). FCP and mediation styles: Factors associated with parents' intentions to let their children watch violent, sexual and family-oriented television content. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 55(3), 380-399. doi:10.1080/08838151.2011.597465
Murray, J. "The Impact of Televised Violence" Hofstra Law Review v22 (Summer,
1994): 809-825
Scott, D. The V-Chip Debate: Blocking Television Sex, Violence, and the First
Amendment, 16 Loy. L.A. Ent. L. Rev. 741 (1996).

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