Switch off those violent scenes

Excessive violence on the television can develop the ‘mean-world syndrome’ in children, who start perceiving the world as a malicious and dangerous place, writes Nutan Sehgal

  • Some years ago, in a bid to imitate the heroics of TV hero Shaktimaan, a Class VI Bhubaneshwar boy suffocated to death after tying a towel around his neck and hanging himself from a ceiling fan.
  • Another Mumbai kid lost his life when he thought he could bungee jump like a model in a popular soft drink ad.
  • A TV ad featuring two women in different cars racing to claim the last spot in a crowded car park created a major fuss in Australia as people felt it was highly irresponsible and glamorised road rage, especially among children and adolescent viewers.

Despite the fact that considerable research is going into the issue of violence in films and television, hardly any concrete steps are being taken to contain it or draw up a code of conduct. Most parents think that children watch films and TV shows for fun. But little do they realise that many scenes may contain hidden messages of violence that can scar a young person’s psyche.

According to a new research published by the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, violent images make teenagers more prone to aggressive behaviour. The study used 22 boys aged between 14 and 17 while they viewed four-second video clips of violent scenes taken from 60 different videos.

Parents must teach children to differentiate between the real and the make-believe world
Parents must teach children to differentiate between the real and the make-believe world.
Studies have revealed that an increasing number of girls are showing a marked predilection for violent programmes.
Studies have revealed that an increasing number of girls are showing a marked predilection for violent programmes. Thinkstockphotos/ Getty Images

Dr Maren Strenziok, team leader of the study, says that aggressive media makes young people less sensitive to violence, which, in turn, promotes aggressive attitudes and behaviour.

The response to violent images is the same across the world. Studies in India show that kids who watch violent film and TV shows can grow up to become aggressive adults. Even seemingly innocuous cartoon shows like Swat Cats, Dragon Ballz, MIB, Johnny Quest and crime serials like VIP and CIS have become the new icons of TV violence to be imitated in real life.

But research suggests that more than anything it is a high dose of film-based programmes that is most harmful for kids. "Violent films can have a far-reaching effect on children,"says psychiatrist Dr Satish Parthasarthy. "Parents must discourage children from watching senseless violence in films and television shows as it has a distinct negative effect on their personality when they grow up," he adds.

In one research, two groups of children aged between six and eight were confined to different rooms. In one room, the group was shown a TV programme in which a girl of their age was shown kicking and screaming at a doll. The other group of kids in the next room was shown a girl of their age playing lovingly with her doll.

Next day the children were given a doll each and individually confined to a room and their behaviour was observed. Those, who had seen the images of a girl screaming and kicking the doll, displayed similar violence to the doll given to them, while those, who had seen images of the girl playing with her doll, displayed similar tender emotions.

In any case, says the psychiatrist, the children must be taught to differentiate between the real and the makebelieve world. The parents or other adults should make it clear to kids how television stereotypes distort reality or why a film character behaves in a way that is not consistent with normal values or why the story writer has used violence in a particular situation without trying to find a nonviolent solution.

More startlingly, studies reveal that an increasing number of young girls are showing a marked predilection for violence on TV and films. The scenes they enjoy most is when the hero bashes up the baddie. What is notable here is that girls tend to justify the violence in the scenes saying that it symbolises a triumph of good over evil.

A study by the Centre for Media and Public Affairs states that despite the high volume of televised violence, children rarely see it causing adverse effects. A majority of such serials never showed the hero lose an arm, leg or get killed on screen. In reality, with as much gunplay that appears on TV, main characters should also get shot. The "bad guy" can get shot, killed, burned or maimed, but never the hero. In fact, the hero can really be as violent has he/she wants.

Advertisements on television, too, can have a negative impact on a child’s psyche. Studies reveal that while 20 per cent of children start channel surfing when ads are being aired, about 80 per cent stay glued to their TV sets and get influenced by these ads. However, their minds are not developed enough to understand, whether the product is necessary for their family or whether their parents can afford it. If the parents can’t, it creates discord in families, which is another kind of violence.

The greatest danger of television violence on a child’s psyche comes in families where very young kids are given a free hand to watch what they like on the small screen. In such a scenario, the small screen becomes a kind of a baby-sitter and a replacement for quality time with parents. Children, who spend their after-school time alone because parents work, are at the greatest risk as television assumes the role of a teacher, which can grip the mind of the young person.

Thus, it is not just the responsibility of parents and teachers but more so of the policy planners, who must take the initiative of changing the ongoing scenario. Steps must be initiated to re-invigorate the partnership of producers and broadcasters to enhance the intellectual development of films and TV programmes.

Though there is a film censor board, experts are of the view that television, too, needs effective censorship that must govern advertisements and serial makers. If these people fail to check themselves then there should be an independent body having representatives from all sections of the society, which should decide whether certain programmes should be aired or not.

In many crime-based programmes, says Dr Parthasarthy, violence is shown and seen as a means of resolving problems, and reaching goals. Very few television programs actually focus and emphaside on anti-violence themes. This is where the role of parents, teachers and government bodies becomes crucial. Children should be disabused of this notion and clearly told that violence never pays.

Most experts say that since television cannot be wished away, very young children should be encouraged to watch programmes with their parents or elder siblings. Unregulated viewing is risky and must be stopped for the good of the children. — NF