A Blessing and a Curse

Television has the potential to unite communities, provide information to allow positive cultural, social and environmental change, and to create a true global village. It also has the potential to alienate, desocialise, to promote aggressive and negative behaviours, provide negative and inappropriate role models to our children, and to create negative values such as values of consumption and possession.

During the past two decades there has been considerable debate on the issue of the impact of television violence on youth behaviour. Many in the television industry deny television's contribution to youth violence.

The Net-generation refers to people born between 1977 and 1997. There have been many studies that identify an association between exposure to violence in entertainment and violent behaviour, but these studies do not prove that exposure causes violent behaviour. They show that there is a risk that exposure to media violence will increase the likelihood of subsequent aggressive behaviour. This risk can be increased or decreased by a large number of other factors. Recent research into the effects of pornography and violent video/computer games is starting to draw similar conclusions, although findings suggest that pornographic films, especially those containing violence, can contribute to callous sexual behaviour and violence towards women.

The relationship between what we see and what we do is extremely complex. Some of the more important variables are context in which violence is portrayed, the age of the viewer, the sex of the viewer, the ability of the viewer to differentiate between fantasy and reality, and justified and unjustified use of force.

Violence on television seems to be effecting our feelings of safety within the community. There is some evidence to suggest that the level of violence in television programs, films, news, may have led to an increase in fear that society is more dangerous than is actually the case.

Censorship issues are difficult to resolve. What are our rights? Are they to be protected from viewing things that may be harmful to our own or our children's psyche, or are they to have the right to decide for ourselves? Censorship may also lead to the 'forbidden fruit' phenomenon and the development of black markets. Similar results may occur if there is regulation of broadcasters. Would self-regulation work?

It is well known that parental influence can be a major factor in reducing the impact that television violence will have on children. But parents need to be aware of this and need to take the time to know what their children are viewing and, at best, view programs with children in order to ameliorate the negative impacts from such viewing. Parental influence can also enhance the positive impacts of television, and can allow children to understand social systems and appropriate behaviour more fully. Parental education and awareness programs will determine how successful this approach is.

One option to ensure television viewing is less damaging to children is to have media literacy education for children in all schools. The aim of this education would be to help children to critically evaluate the images, which are presented to them on an everyday basis.

If we are concerned about the kind of television our children are watching, technological advances such as the 'v-chip' (violence chip) can be programmed to block out unwanted programs from television broadcasts. Just as it is with censorship issues, new technology relies on parental involvement.

Television programming is driven by commercial intent. Television appears to be harmless entertainment, but the function of global television is connected with the ideology of globalising capitalism. It appears the commercial intent is focused on distraction and cultural reformation. More information.

Television has a large social cost. Television viewing removes us from the physical reality of our current lives – and often for extended periods of time. When we watch television, we stop social interaction – conversation becomes fractious and partial, if it continues at all. While we watch television we miss the verbal interaction that allows for sharing, learning and building collective perspectives.

Television changes culture in more ways than we can imagine. In the United States, half of the population now report watching television while eating dinner, and more than a third watch while eating breakfast or lunch. People in the US spend more time watching television than they do talking with their spouses (four to six times more) and playing with their children (an average of twenty minutes each day compared with four hours of television viewing). The situation is no much different in the UK where 46 percent of people say that at the end of a working day all they want to do is watch television. It is, in fact, the number one leisure time pursuit in much of the developed world.;

People's absorption in television results in far less time for intimate social connectedness, which is visible not only in the home but in the broader patterns of community vitality, or social capital. Social capital is a term used to describe the overall health of social connectedness – feelings of common purpose, common identity and common commitment. Television viewing has been implicated in the collapse of positive civic participation in almost all of its forms. Since healthy communities are characterized by high levels of social capital and participation, lack of positive civic participation indicates and unhealthy communities. This is decline in civic participation reveals a clear inter-generational shift.

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