Harvard’s Centre on Media and Child Health has found that children learn socially acceptable behaviour from television and movies and then model that in the playground.
The researchers found that even the behaviour of politicians and heroes in storylines could be used by children as justification for standover tactics.
“If we look at media and you look at the way violence is presented in the media, you see violence as being very glamorised and very exciting, and having very few consequences,” said David Bickham, a Paediatrics instructor at Harvard Medical School at Adelaide’s Flinders University, Australia.
“So if a young person has grown up with that being the primary source of information about violence, then it’s easy to understand why we would be concerned that they would learn that behaving aggressively in school is something that would lead to lots of positive social outcomes.”
Dr Bickham says the media can affect children’s behaviour by portraying violence and aggression as the norm.
“I think it really has to do with showing that it’s something that is accepted by society,” he said.
“Aggression in general is something that’s common and that’s very light and that a lot of times is used by children’s television or entertainment television.
“You see a lot violence that the hero does and so the message becomes: this is a social tool that good guys use as much as bad guys.”
Alison Wotherspoon, the screen production coordinator at Flinders University who started the “Bullying No Way” website to help parents and teachers counter the behaviour that children learn from television and movies, says it is not always the obvious protagonists that are to blame.
“You’ve got incredibly popular shows like Big Brother or a range of reality shows where it’s really a construction of a bullying environment, where you get to vote someone out, which is classic exclusion; let’s all gang up on somebody and make them go away and make them cry,” she said.
“So you’ve got horrible bullying being modelled in a range of television programs that aren’t specifically for children that children are going to watch.
“Even getting a panel of people getting a chance to talk about whether you’re a good dancer or a bad dancer in front of everybody, so there’s a humiliation factor there.
“I think there’s a lot of programming that gets by in mainstream, especially commercial, television which people don’t think about the consequences of what’s being modelled.”
Wotherspoon says our politicians do not set the best example either.
“It’s also really difficult when you look at politicians in Parliament,” she said.
“There’s an incredible amount of disrespectful behaviour where it’s acceptable to belittle someone and call them names and laugh at them and this is our top politicians being paid to do so.
“How can you expect children to behave nicely to each other if people in high positions in our society don’t behave nicely to each other?”
Dr Bickham says while media use is just one factor in children’s bullying behaviour, the good news is it is the easiest influence to counter.
“It’s a very strong impact and also it’s something we can actually intervene on – it’s something we can do something about,” he said.
“A lot of the other factors are very, very complex about family environment and social economic status,” he said.
“All of these things, cultural norms, things that are much more complex to actually do something about and the media, if we can talk to parents and show them the research and illustrate what’s happening, then maybe we can help them make informed good health decisions.”
An abc.net.au Article