Student Led Discussion: Sex, Violence, and Stereotypes on TV

How much does TV impact your life? The current generation has had TVs around for their entire lives. Television has a profound impact on all age groups, but the demographic it has the biggest impression on are kids. Children spend a lot of time sitting in front of the TV from when they are born until age 16 and the effects are far reaching. Kids will sit with their parents and learn things from the TV shows that their parents watch. Some of the things they observe are potentially hurtful and unhealthy. Kids are heavily influenced by violence, sex, and stereotypes on TV because they often perceive what they see to be reality.

Baby on sofa with television remote

The TV presents kids with an alternate reality and they do not have the ability to separate real life from what is fiction. They then can’t decide what to believe and how to act. Kids unfortunately spend a lot of time watching violence and make irreversible habits as a result. It has been proven that kids who are subjected to violence repetitively tend to have more aggression, be less empathetic, and  are more anxious. Also, these children are likely to argue more and become bullies. Kids have nightmares and see violence as acceptable and unremarkable. The mass amount of violent content in the media has led to desensitization. The children who watch a great deal of this are more likely to break rules, and hit and fight with classmates. Kids watch violence so much on TV that they lose perception of the fact that violence in real life can cause injury or even kill.  Kids are now virtually unaffected by violence on TV because it has been accepted as the norm. Fisher-Price’s website stated, “By the end of elementary school, the average child has witnessed 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on TV.” This fact took both of us by surprise because it’s so upsetting and disturbing. Seeing that amount of violence early in our life has given kids “Mean World Syndrome” according to George Gerbner. This is a phrase he coined to describe how television has made people think the world is more dangerous than it actually is. It causes people to be irrationally scared of the world around them.  They perceive society as scary and unsafe and fear violence. This gives kids a lot of stress. Also, there is a correlation between watching violence at age 8 and being aggressive at age 19. This means that they might not show signs of violence and aggression right away, but tend to be more disruptive and angry later in life. Also kids that watch violence on TV, have been proven to be more likely to drink and drive when they are older, be abusive to wives and kids, and commit other violent crimes.

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In addition to violence, TV gives incorrect perspectives on sex to kids. According to a 2011 study, TV is the main medium that youth see sexual content on. Kids see sex on TV, don’t understand what it is, and create an inaccurate meaning of sex in their mind. There are countless images/videos of two people in a bed and there are even more conversations had in shows about sex. These discussions are never what the children should be learning. Rarely is there discussion of sexually transmitted infections, birth control methods, relationship negotiation, parent-child communication or abstinence. In a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital Boston, they stated, “6 to 8-year-old children who watch prime-time, network television shows with adult content are more likely to have sex when they’re 12 to 14 years old than 6- to 8-year-olds who do not see those shows.” Parents often neglect to have the “sex talk” early enough and as a result, their children learn everything they know about sex from friends and media outlets like TV. It’s alarming to know that we live in a nation where STIs are a fast-growing concern and that media like television is only making it worse. 15 percent of sex scenes on TV show two characters that just met having sex. Depictions of sexual content on shows like Friends and Everyone Loves Raymond may seem innocent, but they’re giving children the wrong ideas about sex.

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Another area that kids can get the wrong ideas about from watching TV is stereotypes. This includes gender roles and racial discrimination. In regards to gender roles, in TV shows, they show men as more dominant when talking or interacting with females. Also, white men are more dominant then other races. TV portrays male figures as powerful, smart, tolerant, and competitive. On the contrary, they portray women as warm, happy, timid, and dependent. These characteristics generalize all men and women and create the false perception that these are the attributes carried by the two genders in all cases. Children, being the most impressionable of all the demographics, often blindly regard these interpretations as truth. Through hours upon hours of television consumption, stereotypes like men must focus on strength and performance while women should only care about attractiveness and desirability become deeply instilled in the views mind. The Muppets have been under scrutiny for using sexism. This is due to the fact that all of the puppets names are male names and all of the voice actors (even Miss Piggy) are done by men. Racial discrimination is a another major issue on television. In the TV show Hey Arnold!, the one black character, Gerald, is tall, athletic, and wears sports clothing. The only asian portrayed in the show, Phoebe, is studious, wears glasses, and is overall a geek. Then of course there’s the protagonist of the series, Arnold. He embodies the stereotypical white heterosexual male as he’s a peacemaker and is well liked among others in the show. By depicting the characters in these ways, Hey Arnold! is reinforcing stereotypes and making generalizations about race that children pick up by watching the show. The use of gender roles and race roles on kids TV programs negatively influences the viewer’s beliefs. Adoption of stereotypes at such a young age makes advancement in diversity and cultural acceptance much harder down the road.

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There are several precautionary actions that parents should and need to take so their kids understand the message that they are receiving on TV and can navigate through the negative influences. First, parents need to explain to their children that the events shown on children’s TV programs are not meant to display real life, but that they are fictional. This is a difficult, but an essential piece to safeguarding the child from blindly accepting the things they see as truth. Also, parents need to keep an eye on the clock. Kids should not be allowed to spend too much time in front of the TV. There should be a healthy balance of other activities like going outside or reading. Additionally, parents should know the rating of the TV show or movie that their kid is watching. Wandering on through the channels to a violent rated R movie with cruel and violent content is not appropriate for young children. Lastly, parents should initiate the “sex talk” with their children before they are wrongly influenced by sex portrayed on television. They need to avoid getting the wrong message and believing in false information. You should clarify any stereotypes and make sure they know what is racist and sexist information. In a society that puts such heavy emphasis on media consumption, children need to be taught early on how to process the differences between entertainment and reality.

George Gerbner

George Gerbner

 

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