are bombarded by intensely violent images in the movies they watch and the
video games they play. Even prime time TV is loaded with violent imagery.
But what about programming specifically created for young children?
Television Council set out to discover exactly what young children are
seeing on programming designed uniquely for them. The PTC chose to focus on
entertainment programming for school-aged children aged 5-10 on broadcast
television and expanded basic cable. Eight networks – four broadcast and
four cable – offer programming matching that criteria: ABC, Fox, NBC, WB,
ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. The PTC
focused its analysis on before-school, after-school, and Saturday morning
programming. The analysis covered a three week period from the summer of
2005 for a total of 443.5 hours of children's programming.
The results were staggering. In the 443.5 hours of children's programming
analyzed by the PTC there were 3488 instances of violence -- an average of
7.86 violent incidents per hour. Even when the innocent, "cartoony"
violence most of us grew-up with (e.g.
an anvil falling on
Wile E. Coyote's head) is extracted, there were still 2794 instances of
violence for an average of 6.30 violent incidents per hour. To put this
figure in perspective, consider that in 2002 the six broadcast networks
combined averaged only 4.71 instances of violence per hour of prime time
programming.* Thus there is more violence aimed directly at young children
than at adults on television today.
But it is not
only violence that is present in today's programming for children. Sexual
innuendo is present. Adult language is present. Trash talking, bullying,
and disrespect are present. In its analysis of children's television the
PTC also found:
incidents of verbal aggression (e.g.
abusive yelling, mean-spirited insults and put-downs) for an
average of 1.93 instances per hour
incidents of offensive language (such as excretory references or
euphemisms for obscene language) for an average of 0.56 instances per
incidents of disruptive, disrespectful or otherwise problematic
attitudes and behaviors for an average of 1.34 instances per hour
incidents of sexual content for an average of 0.62 instances per hour
Looking at the
the Cartoon Network had the highest total number of violent incidents,
the ABC Family Channel turned out to pack the most punch-per-program,
with 318 instances of violence (only 11 of these could be considered
"cartoon" violence) for an average of 10.96 violent incidents per
Channel had the least-violent children's programming (0.95 incidents per
The WB had
the highest levels of offensive language, verbal abuse, sexual content
and offensive/excretory references.
Fox had the
lowest frequency of this content.
Too often we
dismiss violence in children's programming as inconsequential; "After all,"
the argument goes, "I grew up watching
Road Runner cartoons and I turned out okay." Violence in
cartoons, of course, is nothing new. What has changed is that the violence
is ubiquitous, often sinister, and in many cases, frighteningly realistic.
shown exposure to TV violence to be positively associated with aggressive
behavior in some children and exposure to sexual content increases the
likelihood that children will become sexually active earlier in life. The
extended argument implies that exposure to coarse language and disrespectful
attitudes will also negatively affect children.
take it for granted that children's programs are, by definition,
child-friendly. This clearly is not always the case. Unfortunately this
faulty assumption has led many parents to let their guard down and allow
their children to spend hours watching television unsupervised. Young
children are especially impressionable, and they learn social norms and
behaviors as readily from television as from their peers or parents. The
"Wolves in Sheep's Clothing" report documents that "children's television"
is no safe haven for children and parents must be extremely vigilant as to
what their children are watching.
* PTC Special
Report TV Bloodbath: Violence on Prime
Time Network TV