New TV season, old problem: Entertainment violence

The AMA is continuing its efforts to urge the entertainment industry to reform, and doctors can play an individual role by stressing the dangers to parents.

Posted Oct. 11, 2004.

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The new fall television season is well under way. A quick look at TV Guide shows a prime-time lineup chock-full of violence, murder and mayhem. And that's just the programs. In between are slick advertisements promoting shows, movies and video games with blasting guns and other graphic imagery. These ads often even appear on daytime television.

The continued stream of violence indicates that the entertainment industry hasn't gotten serious about doing better. The nation still has far to go in protecting children from the harmful effects of viewing this content.

The fight against this problem isn't new. The American Medical Association first expressed concern about TV violence in 1952 -- just after television truly caught on in the years after World War II.

In 1976, the Association adopted policies supporting research into the impact of this violence and recognizing that it is a risk factor threatening the health and welfare of young Americans. In the intervening years, the AMA has strengthened that policy and expanded it to other entertainment media -- movies, music, videos, computer games and print publications. It also has supported parental advisories aired by networks, TV and movie rating systems, "V-chip" technology and DVD-filtering devices -- all advancements that help parents control what their children watch.

The battle is still going strong. Last month AMA Trustee Ronald M. Davis, MD, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee on the dangers to children of graphic content in the media.

The research on these perils is not only clear but also frightening. American children ages 2 to 17 watch TV for 3½ hours a day, on average. Before he or she reaches the age of 18, an average child will have witnessed more than 200,000 acts of violence on the small screen, including 16,000 murders. These figures do not even encompass the horrible scenes children see in other forms of media.

This negative exposure has a measurable effect. Children who view a large amount of graphic imagery are more likely to see violence as an effective means of settling disputes; can become emotionally desensitized toward real-life brutality; are more likely to see the world as a meaner place; and have a higher tendency toward violent and aggressive behavior later in life.

That's why the AMA will continue to do its part. It urges the entertainment media to reduce the amount of violence in their products, to depict successful nonviolent solutions to problems, and accurately convey the emotional and other consequences of violent behavior. As Dr. Davis testified, the industry "must assume its share of responsibility for contributing to the epidemic of violence in our society."

Individual doctors also can play a role in this campaign. The start of the TV season is the perfect time to discuss with parents the dangerous impact entertainment violence can have on their children's still-developing minds. Parents must become involved, and information provided by physicians can help them make better choices about what their families watch.

Physicians also can have this talk with patients old enough to understand, so that these youngsters are able to make healthier viewing decisions and grasp the need for their parent's involvement.

In addition, physicians can keep a keen eye out for signs of the effects of too much entertainment violence in their young patients. Doctors have the opportunity to ask children who present with aggressive, oppositional or hyperactive behaviors, or with nightmares or other sleep problems, about their viewing habits. If too much exposure to graphic content is a contributing factor, physicians can address it in a treatment plan.

The influence of the entertainment media is pervasive in American society. That's what makes every effort to stem the tide of violence in the TV programs, movies, music, and video and Internet games kids watch and play so important.

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External links

AMA violence prevention information (link)

AMA's "Physician Guide to Media Violence," in pdf (link)

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