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Violent TV Shows Aren't the Only Problem

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Merle Diamond, MD

Oct. 2, 2000 -- Baseball's World Series is on the horizon and that means big-money TV ads -- commercials you might not want your kids to see. Violent TV commercials airing during professional sports events may be increasing, according to a report in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics. The new findings are timely, as Hollywood heavyweights testify before the Senate, especially because violent TV ads often promote big-screen movies.

"Because so many children watch TV sports, these commercials make it hard for parents to limit their exposure to violence," says author and father of three Charles Anderson, MD, an assistant professor of family practice at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "And in comparing ads that ran during two recent Major League Baseball playoffs, violent depictions have increased by up to two commercials a game," he tells WebMD. Of course, the impact of TV violence is currently a hotbed of research.

According to the National Television and Violence Study, television can alter perception, influence opinion, and affect behavior. In fact, the U.S. Public Health Service describes violence on TV as a national threat, Anderson tells WebMD. "Its harmful effects include learning aggressive behavior, becoming desensitized to real-world violence, and developing a fear of victimization," he explains.

Even the National Association of Broadcasters has stated that violence should only be portrayed in a responsible manner and shouldn't be used in an exploitive way, yet the violent depictions continue. So what can you do to protect your kids? Plenty, according to pediatricians.

"Children need to understand that TV violence isn't real," media violence researcher Victor Strasburger, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, tells WebMD. "Kids need to be reminded that, in the real world, people are seriously hurt by violence."

To reduce your child's exposure to TV violence, here's what Strasburger and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend:

  • Encourage kids to plan TV viewing in advance, with your OK.
  • Post a copy of their viewing schedule on the refrigerator.
  • Screen the shows that your children are watching.
  • Use violent depictions as a springboard for discussion.
  • Avoid having televisions in your kid's bedrooms.

To explore trends in the number and content of violent commercials, Anderson videotaped over 1,500 ads from a total of 15 games in 1996 and 1998. Defining violence as the use or threat of physical force to harm others, he also monitored depictions of weapons, fire, and explosives.

Nearly 9% of the commercials were violent, mostly involving the use of a gun. Of the violent ads, over 55% contained one or more violent acts and more than 90% contained one or more violent threats. Bloody depictions appear to be down, but the use of fire and explosives is on the rise.

If you're not already concerned, consider that over three-quarters of the ads containing violence promoted TV shows and nearly 17% promoted big-screen movies. So stay tuned as media moguls scramble under the watchful eye of Capitol Hill, and in the meantime, the AAP recommends voicing your concerns to a station near you.


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