War games start early in children’s TV
War is portrayed to children everywhere today; whether it is Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, video games or television shows. With adult content, there are restrictions to when shows are played to hopefully keep children from watching them. War in television could lead to violent and aggressive behavior in children, if they are not made aware that war and violence are not normal. Some people, however, do believe war can impact children positively. But is there really ever any positive to war?
Jack Powers, assistant professor in the department of television-radio, believes the portrayal of war in children’s television can have a profound effect on attitudes and behaviors of children.
“The big problem is when you these see war tools being portrayed in a non-war-like fashion, kids start to become desensitized and also not just that it becomes normalized, that this is normal to have these weapons, and that’s not necessarily a good thing,” Powers said.
Professor Barbara Audet, assistant professor of journalism, agrees. She thinks there is a tendency for children to believe war-like behavior is normal, and to possible act on that belief.
Powers believes unless you have experience in something, most people will turn to the media portrayal of a certain thing to get an idea of what it is about. This, for children, can make a huge impact.
“In this particular case, if you are talking about images and war in media—American kids, especially—have very little experience dealing with these issues,” he said. “But they see these images primarily through television and it can have a very real life effect on them.”
However, war in television has been around since the beginning of television.
“The second World War had just ended, the television industry is a relatively new industry, and of course it is going to pick up a lot of its basically story lines from human condition, so in a sense children and television got off to a bad start from the very beginning, simply because of history,” Audet said.
War in cartoons and real war in the news can have different impacts on children, their actions, attitudes and their behaviors.
Powers said that there is a difference between animated and non-animated violence, and children, even young ones, are pretty good about knowing that an animated world is not the same as the real world, but this is not to say animated violence has no impact on children, just that it isn’t as strong.
Understanding Children’s Development by Peter K. Smith, Helen Cowie and Mark Blades explains war in children’s television has been known to influence children to behave more aggressively, and to act out what they see in television.
“The child may imitate actions seen on television, especially if they are associated with admired figures, or if aggression seems to have successful outcomes,” the authors wrote.
LimiTV also believes that children mimic what they see on television, and that if aggressive behavior is seen on television, they are more likely to act it out in their daily life.
“When you show a young kid somebody being run over and they pop back up without harm, that’s a problem,” said Ed Donnerstein, communications and psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara in an interview with Kevin Szaflik from Ridgewood High School, who is referring to many, cartoons in general.
Powers explained if children are not taught about what is going on in cartoons and war in television, they might become desensitized and believe that Wile E. Coyote wouldn’t just get back up after being bombed by the Road Runner.
“One of our fears is that we become desensitized if we see war-like activities portrayed as funny or not harmful, and that doesn’t seem to be a very big deal to kids when its real,” he said.
If war is not explained to children watching violent television, it could lead to aggressive behavior and desensitization. But if parents talk to their children about it, and limit images of war, it is more likely that the effect on children will be less.
Audet agrees with the idea that parents should teach their children about the images that they are seeing.
If you turn it into something where they learn from it, it’s one thing, but if it’s just there, it’s random violence,” she said. “For them it’s not real, for them it’s a story, you have to sit them down and tell them, this is what’s real, and this is what’s a story.”
In everyday life there is war in television, even in cartoons; it can have both a negative and positive impact on children. The impact just depends on how war images are approached by parents and other adults.
Alexa D’Angelo is a sophomore journalism major who thinks . Email her at [email protected].