Fall 1992, Volume 1, Number 2

Youth Crime in N.C. linked to media violence

Increasing media violence was cited as a primary cause in a sharp rise in violent crime by young people in North Carolina, according to a recent report from Charles Dunn, director of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).Dunn said SBI statistics for 198 6-1991 show a doubling in the number of murders committed by youth under the age of 18, while arrests for robberies and weapons violations tripled over the five-year period.These figures indicate a growing desensitization of children in our society that c auses them to hurt and even kill for small reasons, said Dunn. Often they resort to guns to settle arguments. And seldom do the violent show remorse for their actions.Dunn attributed the increases to too much violence on television, children growing up too fast, and the breakdown of families and other support systems. Nationally, FBI statistics show a 60 percent increase in the number of juveniles arrested for homicide between 1981 and 1990. By contrast, adult homicide arrests rose only 5.2 percent in that period.Juvenile violence even prompted the North Carolina Association of Educators to hold a special summer seminar for teachers on dealing with violence in the schools. "You have kids today who are no longer going to settle things with a few punches, they are going to shoot you", said NAE member Jane Hansel in the Raleigh News & Observer.

The SBI report follows testimony before Congress last spring confirming that heavy exposure to TV violence is a primary cause of crime, violence and aggressive behavior.Representing the American Psychological Association, Prof. Leonard D. Eron of the University of Illinois at Chicago told a U.S. Senate panel that 30 years of research reveals that a vicious cycle exists in which television violence makes children more aggressive and these more aggressive children turn to watching more violence to jus tify their own behaviors.Today, children living in homes with cable TV and/or a VCR will view about 32,000 murders and 40,000 attempted murders by the age of 18, according to estimates by the National Coalition on Television Violence. Eron called the vie wing effect bi-directional, so that if media violence is reduced, the level of interpersonal aggression in our society will be reduced eventually. In 1960, Eron and his colleagues began studying 875 children, ages 8 and 9, and conducted follow-up studies in 1970 and in 1982.

Our most striking finding [in 1970] was the positive relation between viewing of violent television at age 8 and aggression at age 19 in male subjects, Eron said.Moreover, the 8-year old boys who originally tested as low aggessive but watched violent T V were significantly more aggressive 10 years later than boys who were originally high aggressive but did not watch violent programs. Even other variables such as IQ, social status, social mobility, parents aggressiveness, etc., did not alter this phenom enon, Eron said.Meanwhile, school performance and social popularity appeared to be related to how much TV violence the subjects viewed. Children who behave aggressively are less popular and, perhaps because their relations with their peers tend to be uns atisfying, less popular children watch more television and view more violence.Similarly, children who fail in school watch more television, perhaps because they find it more satisfying than schoolwork, Eron said.

During the 1982 follow-up, Eron and his researchers looked at the subjects criminal records and found that . . . the more frequently our subjects watched television at age 8 the more serious were the crimes for which they were convicted by age 30; the more aggressive was their behavior while under the influence of alcohol; and, the harsher was the punishment they administered to their ownchildren.The 1982 follow-up study also found that the violence-prone subjects were passing on their tendencies including an appetite for TV violence to their children. What one learns about life from the television screen seems to be transmitted even to the next generation! said Eron.Eron, who chairs the APAs Commission on Violence and Youth, said the panel is developing strategies including teaching critical TV viewing skills to help stem the rising tide of violence among the young. The commissions findings are due out in December.

For more information, call the American Psychological Association at 202-336-5700 or write to APA Public Affairs Office, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002-4242.

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