Screen time leads to jail time

Thanks to the massive technological strides that have occurred throughout the 21st century, many children watch their first television show before they learn how to walk. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, two-thirds of infants and toddlers view a screen for an average of two hours a day. They represent a growing number of parents who lean heavily on media sources to educate, and to some extent raise, their children.
This trend continues on into adolescence. According to a survey taken in 2009, a typical American between the ages of eight and 18 spends an average of four hours and 29 minutes a day watching TV content, and one hour and 13 minutes playing video games. Correspondingly, it is estimated that American children are exposed to over 200,000 violent acts on television alone by the time they turn 18.

Experts have argued about the effect of media violence on real-life aggressive behavior  since the first study on the subject came out in 1956. Early researchers observed that a group of children exposed to a cartoon featuring violence were more likely to later hit other children and break toys while playing than a group who watched a cartoon without any violent features. Since then, numerous studies on the matter have yielded a variety of results, many variations on the same trend. The American Psychiatric Association recently announced that, “The debate is over… For the last three decades, the one predominant finding in research on the mass media is that exposure to media portrayals of violence increases aggressive behavior in children.” Their conclusive statement concurs with many studies, including those of Leonard Eron, a senior research scientist at the University of Michigan. Through statistical evidence and observed behavior, he found that television alone caused 10 percent of youth violence.

By looking at television shows, video games, and other forms of modern entertainment, it is easy to see how children and teens are encouraged to use more aggressive behavior. Approximately, 66 percent of all TV shows contain violent images or messages, most conveyed in a humorous or positive light. Experts believe that when the heroes of these shows use violence to solve their problems or seek justice, they encourage emulation of their behavior by viewers. In addition, 89 percent of video games on the market feature graphic content. Games can have an even worse effect than simply viewing aggressive behavior, as they both encourage violent means and allow users to physically control the violence. In 1999, the Columbine shooters exhibited what a strong effect virtual slaughter could have when they cited the video game Doom as a source of inspiration for many aspects of their school massacre.
Popular TV shows like Heroes and 24 are perfect examples of media that features violence in a positive light. Each episode shows a group of good guys using aggression in order to bring justice to the bad characters. In the end, they are congratulated for their efforts. Popular video games offer other disturbing examples. In Grand Theft Auto, players are able and encouraged to rob and murder policemen, innocent citizens, and other gang members in order to achieve a higher score. A Japanese video game called RapeLay allows players to stalk, torture, and sexually assault women and underage girls. At one point in the plot, the hero of the game convinces a girl he impregnated to receive an abortion. Lists of other top-selling games contain even more disgusting samples.

Decades of television programming, video games, and viral content have proved that the public has an appetite for violence. The test now is not to see whether it can all be eliminated, but whether the media can find ways to show aggressive behavior in a negative light.