September 29, 1997
Volume 50, No. 6
While claiming steadfastly that she does not hate television, psychologist Madeline Levine offered solid evidence of the detrimental effects media-borne violence has on children in a lecture at Tarbutton Hall Sept. 16.
Levine, a Bay-area psychologist who teaches child development at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, is the author of the 1996 book Viewing Violence. She has been on numerous talk shows around the country decrying media-television, movies, video games and music-portrayals of violence as the solution to any and all problems.
"There is only one story on Saturday morning [cartoons], and that story is inevitably solved by violence," Levine said. "It is the first, not the last, resort. Popular heroes teach us violence is justified, heroic, without consequences and glamorous." Indeed, she said she was "more concerned with the good 'heroes' of movies because they do the majority of the killing and they're not punished."
After citing numerous studies examining the relationship between children's television viewing habits and their attitudes toward violence-Levine said there have been 3,000 studies of media violence in the past 45 years, 1,000 of which examined its effect on children-she said it is an issue researchers barely bother to study anymore. "How many times can you find the same answer to the same question?" she asked. "This is the single most researched social science topic of the century."
More important today are the questions of just when and how strongly those effects take hold, and why, after so much proof of its detrimental effects, does media violence still dominate the airwaves? To the latter, Levine offered the universal explanation: money.
"Entertainment is the second biggest U.S. export behind the defense industry," she said. "Fifty percent of the stuff on any TV or movie screen around the world is American, and violence transfers to all cultures."
And don't expect it to stop any time soon, she warned, by way of government intervention or media self-regulation. The only way to safeguard children against the problem is by learning about the issue, then carefully monitoring and regulating kids' television habits. "Informed parents act in their kids' best interest," Levine said. "This information [about media violence] has not found its way into the mainstream media; 90 percent of the talk shows I've done have been either extremely left-wing or right-wing."
Of the varying effects of media violence, Levine cited two as being the most destructive. First is desensitization, which in itself is not an evil word, she said, but merely a form of learning. The problem lies in what the learning tool is used for. "Little by little we're being re-educated as to what violence is," she said. "Desensitized people are less likely to act on something they see-we may not like violence, but we may not hate it as much as we should."
The second problem is that too much TV makes children less creative as adults because it limits their imagination and takes away from play time, the "job of childhood," Levine said.
"Few character traits are more important than imagination," she said. "We're all faced with personal problems, and the way we solve them is to go inside our heads and try on different hats, try different solutions and then come up with real solutions. Children who watch TV learn one solution-violence, physicality.
"Kids must understand that TV is not a window to the world, that what is left out is just as important as what is left in. And the only way to cure violence is to stop cultivating it."
Return to September 29, 1997 contents page