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Children must be protected from film and TV violence

Analyses showed that MSE predicted age of sexual debut, both directly and indirectly through changes in sensation seeking.

BHARAT DOGRA |

The impact of depiction of sex and violence in the context of Hindi and other Indian language films has often been discussed in the context of censorship. However, there is a need to look at this issue in the wider context of its overall impact and relate it to other changes in society. Further, there is a need to examine this issue in the context of not just popular feature films but also in the context of TV programmes, short films, videos, and clips. Moreover, as some of the most important research has been conducted in the USA and Europe, we must look at this research also, not confining ourselves just to the much fewer studies available on Hindi cinema and other Indian language films.

An increasing number of studies have been warning against the possibilities of harmful impacts of some aspects of the contents of popular films and TV programmes on children and adolescents. More recently such concerns have been voiced also in the context of video games.

A report issued by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in December 2017, while drawing attention to the high violence content of TV programmes, stated that hundreds of studies of effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that due to excessive exposure children may:

  • become ‘immune’ or numb to the horrors of violence,
  •  begin to accept violence as a means to solve problems,
  • imitate the violence they observe on TV,
  •  and identify with certain characters, victims and victimizers.

 

Extensive viewing of television violence by children, the Academy report points out, causes greater aggressiveness. Sometimes watching a single violent programme can increase aggressiveness. Programmes that show more realistic, frequently repeated violence as well as unpunished violence are likely to be imitated more. Children with emotional, behavioral and learning problems, or who are more impulsive, may come under greater influence. Research by psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard Eron and others starting in the 1980s revealed that children who watched many hours of violence on TV when they were in elementary school went on to show higher levels of aggressive behavior when they became teenager.

Following their life further, the researchers found that when they grew into adults, they were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts. A review in 2010 by psychologist Craig A. Anderson and others concluded – “The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and pro-social behavior.” In another study by Ross E O’hara, Fredrick X Gibbons et al , the relations among early movie sexual exposure (MSE), sexual debut and risky sexual behavior in adulthood (i.e. multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use) were examined in a longitudinal study of US adolescents.

Analyses showed that MSE predicted age of sexual debut, both directly and indirectly through changes in sensation seeking. MSE also predicted engagement in risky sexual behavior both directly and indirectly via early sexual debut. These researchers suggest that MSE may promote sexual risk-taking both by modifying sexual behavior and by accelerating the normal rise in sensation seeking during adolescence. L. Rowell Huesmann and Laramie D. Taylor write in their paper titled ‘The role of media violence in violent behavior’: “Media violence poses a threat to public health in as much as it leads to an increase in real world violence and aggression.

Research shows that fictional television and film violence contribute to both a short-term and long-term increase in aggression and violence in young viewers. Television news violence also contributes to increased violence, principally in the imitative suicides and aggressions. Video games are clearly capable of producing an increase of aggression and violence in the short term…” Further these researchers say that the threat in this context is “large enough to place it in the category of known threats to public health.” Clearly these studies point to the need for a lot of caution with respect to the unintentional but nevertheless serious adverse impacts of cinema, TV and videos, particularly on adolescents, children and impressionable sections of viewers.

In particular, there is a clear need for caution in the context of films and TV programmes with a large dose of sex, violence and horror. In the case of horror, much longer impacts of films have been noted, continuing for several years. These films can increase the risk of disturbed sleep, anxiety, and obsession. In a study, while nearly 52 per cent youth said that they suffered such impacts immediately after seeing such films, 25 per cent also reported a stretching ‘impact’ in the sense that some of these adverse effects continued even after several years.

Hence, while caution is needed in several contexts, in the case of horror films exposure is best avoided for children. Some of the adverse effects, particularly in the context of violence have also been noticed in the content of several cartoon films and the super-heroes created by them in the world of children. Hence there is reason for caution in this context, too. At the same time, there is a need for preparing better and healthier entertainment for children in the form of films and TV programmes, linking these to the challenges of present times.