According to a newly released study by the Parents Television Council (PTC), prime time network television is more violent than ever before. Not only that, but the violence increasingly is of a sexual nature.
Among the most sexually violent shows are those in the C.S.I. franchise on CBS. According to Nielsen Media Research, on average more than a million children tune in to C.S.I. every week.
The PTC found that portrayals of violence are up 75 percent since 1998. And the violence portrayed is now a fundamental part of storylines, whereas in 1998 violence was incidental to plots. The study also found that violence is depicted more graphically than ever before.
A quick glance at a prime time lineup makes it easy to see why violence is up: C.S.I., C.S.I. New York, C.S.I. Miami, 24, House, ER, Criminal Minds, Crossing Jordan, Bones, Prison Break, Medium, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, NCIS. Hour after hour after hour in prime time is filled with shows that plumb the darkest reaches of human nature, and show the grisly aftermath of murders, rapes and assaults.
Amazingly, the frequency of violence in adult programming, 4.41 incidents per hour according to PTC's new study, is still outstripped by violence in children's programming. Last year the PTC released its first-ever study of children's television programming and found that cartoons and shows designed specifically for children were studded with more than 6 instances of violence per hour.
Producers and programmers are filling the airwaves with violence and millions of children are watching it. And it is a very real public health issue.
Why? Because thousands of studies indicate that exposure to violence on television is directly correlated to an increase in violent behavior and aggression in children. This is accepted fact in the social science community. Textbooks on human development now dedicate pages to the effect television viewing has on the development of children.
The PTC's study includes an expert commentary by Deborah A. Fisher, Ph.D., from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Fisher states that children, on average, will be exposed to a thousand murders, rapes, and assaults per year thanks to television. She warns that early exposure to television violence has “consistently emerged as a significant predictor of later aggression.” Fisher also describes other effects that viewing televised violence has on children: increased fear, anxiety, obsessive thoughts and sleep disturbances.
Perhaps most troubling, because of its societal implications, is the finding that viewing violence desensitizes children to violence in real life. They become less sympathetic to the victims of violence and less willing to intervene to stop violence.
So the entertainment media bombard children with violent images, yet we're still astounded when kids kill kids in schools, on playgrounds, at the mall. Is it any wonder schools are now forced to have anti-bullying curricula? Let's put two and two together. Violence in the name of entertainment is a major problem, especially for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society.
Keep in mind, all the blame can't be heaped on Hollywood. After all, ratings for these violent programs are often quite high. C.S.I. consistently ranks among the ten most popular programs week after week. More than a million children – week after week – watch it. And absorb the violence. All with their parents' approval.
Perhaps parents aren't aware of the science that proves violence on television is a real problem for their children. According to Fischer, the combined results of hundreds of studies show that up to 10 percent of real-life violence may be attributed to media violence.
Thank God the remote has an “off” switch! Parents should use it more often.
Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute.