Essay on Youth Violence and Media
There has been a lot of research conducted on the notions that violence portrayed in media - such as television, video, film, music, newspapers and books - can have adverse effects on the children viewing it. Many people have suggested that media has allowed violence to become so prevalent in our societies. It has also been suggested that media has been responsible in making the children violent as well. Statistics have shown that an average person watches as much as 7 hours of television every day. It does not come as any surprise that a child between the age of two and five watches approximately 28 hours of television ever week (Johnson, 1990: Hoffman, 1990). Another thing that comes to mind is that there has been a lot of allowance of violence in the media ever since broadcasting was deregulated in 1980. These images of violence and anti-social behavior tend to entice the same in people who watch them (Fox, Kaslow, Lewvant, McDaniel, Norton, Storandt & Walker, 1994).
It has been recognized that children who are continuously being exposed to violent images in the media tend to incorporate the ideas behind violence in their learning process (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1963; Cannon, 1989; Wilson & Hunter, 1983). The phenomenon of violence is also very complex and there are many factors that can or cannot induce violent behavior in a human being. Many people have suggested that the individuals' personalities, their family backgrounds, their cultural, educational, and religious implications, all contribute to acts of violence. It is believed that children learn from things that happen around them and also by observing people who are important to them, e.g. parents, teachers, priests etc. This is because children start to develop a sense of themselves and others and a sense of right and wrong very early (Piaget, 1932; Sullivan, 1953; Winnicott, 1965). Children who are raised in a society where inequality is supported, they find more evidence of selfishness, competition and domination, they are more likely to grow up to be violent people (West, 1993).
From this we can derive the fact that children are more likely to be exposed to violent material in the media if they are not supervised properly and are not guided properly. Many researches have contributed to this as realizations have been made that prolonged exposure to violence and anti-social behavior in the media to children causes them to be more involved in the use of alcohol and drugs (Evans, 1987; McBee, 1982), and cheat more in school, (Greene, 1992; Greene & Saxe, 1991; McBee, 1982). Even though it has been said that there is a very positive relationship between violence in a person and violence that he/she has been exposed to in the media (Freedman, 1984; 1986), there are many other factors that also have to be considered when viewing the exact effect of violence in media on a child or a person. Although almost everyone would agree that children who view violence in media might turn out to be violent in their real lives, this cannot be the only factor that must be considered when drawing such a conclusion.
That is to say that some of the evidence that has been gathered from the laboratory experiments and other correlational research tend to point otherwise. Some of the laboratory findings have suggested that watching violent images on television can increase the probability of subsequent maladaptive behavior (Evans & McCandless, 1978). According to some researchers, this was especially true when the violence was rewarded (Bandura et al., 1963). Andison (1977) found that the effects on aggression by viewing violence on television are not necessarily more in children as compared to the adult viewers. This research, even though inconclusive, also found that the effects of violence in media were slightly stronger on adults than they were on preschool children. These findings are very different from those that have suggested that media can have more effects on children since they are more susceptible in their growing years.
Research that has been conducted in the field and also by correlation also provides some other important perspectives on this issue. These researches show that the images of violence viewed on television can have various different kinds of effects on the viewer and these effects largely depend on the personality of the viewer. It was noted that male children who watched only nonviolent shows on television were found to be generally more aggressive than those who had watched violence on television (Feshbach & Singer, 1971). Findings by Friedrich and Stein (1973), however, have suggested that there exists a complex relationship between interpersonal aggression and the watching of violent television programs. It was also found that people who were high on the aggression list and those who saw violence in the media, took a longer time in coming down from their aggressive state than did high-aggressors who saw neutral or nonviolent images. On the other hand, those who were low on aggression and who saw nonviolent images became more aggressive than those who saw violence on television. This means that even those images that were nonviolent evoked an aggressive response under certain conditions (Gadow Sprafkin. 1989). The programs that were used to determine this included Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (Coates, Pusser & Goodman, 1976).
These findings have made many researchers question the true nature of violence in the media and how it can or cannot affect the child in various ways. Some studies have also suggested that it is not the nature of the programs but the number of hours that a child spends in front of the television that is the cause of the adverse effects. This is so according to Belson (1978), who believes that aggression could be derived from watching violent television as often as it could be derived from watching nonviolent images.
The research on children has been restricted to because of many factors. It is believed that children are a special audience (Dorr, 1986). They are generally considered to be more vulnerable to the exposure of various contents on television, more than adults are known to be affected. This is because the minds of children are in a stage of cognitive immaturity and the cognitive pathways in their minds can easily be shaped by various media that are fed into it. It has been found that television is a particularly attractive thing for the children and the children tend to view television more than they indulge in other activities. This is why television has an enormous potential of shaping the way a child might think and act. There are many kinds of programs that come on the television and many of them have been specifically designed to mold and nurture the minds of children. Thus it is also very possible that children who view violent images on television can have certain adverse affects on their brains. This can in turn affect their personalities and instill a fascination with violence for the rest of their lives.
As discussed above, there is much disagreement as to exactly how television viewing can or cannot affect the minds of children. One that that is for sure is that children do tend to watch a whole lot of television. Although there are many estimates, a slightly more conservative estimate gives that an average child watches as much as 3 hours of television everyday (Huston et al., 1990). The effects of viewing tend to depend largely on the nature of the programs but this is also debatable since the factors involving individual personalities are also to be considered.
Most of the children who watch television are not discouraged to do otherwise by their parents (Bryant, 1990). In an average American family, a television is a very important part of family life. Families sit together and watch many television shows and most of the times young children are watching television in front of their parents. One study concluded that children watched television with children more than seventy percent of the time (St. Peters, Fitch, Huston, Wright, & Eakins, 1991). It has also been determined that television habits are formed in the early years of a child. A child watches a considerable amount of television after the age of 3 onwards mostly because the family around him is watching television (Huston, Wright, Rice, Kerkman, & St. Peters, 1990). The parents are mostly blamed for not regulating their children's television viewing habits. This has also been found that not many parents put in an effort to regulate their children's television viewing patterns. Children learn by their parents' examples and if the parents watch a lot of television, so do the children. (St. Peters et al.,1991).
The parents also play an integral role in the children's mind about the contents of what they view on television. If the parents also enjoy watching violent images on television, the children are also more likely to like and thus view more violence on television. Many studies have indicated that explaining what the child just saw on television can greatly help resolve many issues in the child's mind and also helps them to make better and informed decisions later on. It is believed that if the parents discuss the ideas behind the aggression shown on television with their children, the violent images tend to have a considerably less affect on the child (Desmond, Singer, & Singer, 1990; Wright, St. Peters, & Huston, 1990). It has also been theorized that television may also affect the whole family as a group, that is, in the way that they spend their time and events together (Bryant, 1990). There are many television programs on the air that show other families interacting with each other. These families have served as role models for many American families all over the nation for many years. It is very likely that your normal average family is akin to these families and takes up and adopts many or some of the patterns that they see being interacted on television. These patterns can be considered as what defines normality for these people.
For the most part, it is very relevant to study the literature that is on the topic of the effects of televised violence on aggression (Geen & Thomas, 1986; Hearold, 1986; Roberts & Maccoby, 1985). The fact that keeps recurring is that it is only the televised viewing that brings about an increased aggressive state but it other factors also have to be considered. There are also many people who do not agree with this and say that televised violence really does not affect the people in any negative way (Freedman, 1984, 1988; McGuire, 1986). Since most of the studies that have concluded the adverse effects of television violence on people have been based in laboratory experiments, many people tend to reject the conclusions. “Critics of laboratory research base their arguments on allegations that such studies represent only analogs of aggressive behavior and not cross-sections of it (e.g., Freedman, 1984). Partly because of such arguments, interest in laboratory experiments began to wane in the 1970s as research on the effects of televised violence became based more and more on studies in natural settings. Some of these studies, usually called field experiments, involved the use of experimental methodology in natural settings. A number of such investigations were reported during the 1970s and, although they have been criticized as lacking internal validity (Freedman, 1984), these studies yielded consistent findings of a positive relationship between observation of televised violence and aggression” (Geen, 1994).
Friedrich-Cofer and Huston (1986) provide a detailed discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these studies. Also, Wood, Wong & Chachere (1991) also reported the results and meta-analysis of 28 filed experiments that were conducted between 1956 and 1988. “The studies included in this analysis were chosen because they investigated the effects of media violence on aggression among children and adolescents during unconstrained social interaction with strangers, classmates, and friends. Wood and her colleagues concluded that media violence does enhance aggression in such settings and that, because all the experiments involved short-term immediate reactions to observed violence, the effects may be due to temporary changes in affect and arousal as well as to long-term processes like modeling” (Geen, 1994).
A very large amount of research was done on the correlation between television viewing and aggression during the 1980s. “One such investigation was the final phase of a longitudinal project begun in the late 1950s by Eron and his associates (Eron, Walder, & Lefkowitz, 1971). The research began with the study of third-grade students in a rural county in upstate New York. Each child's level of aggressiveness was assessed through ratings made by parents, peers, and the children themselves; each child's preference for violent television programs was also measured. Measures of the same variables were obtained 10 and 22 years later from many of the same children. The method of cross-lagged panel correlation was used for analysis of the data. The results of the 10-year follow-up (Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, & Huesmann, 1977) revealed that among boys the amount of televised violence watched during third grade was positively correlated with aggressiveness 10 years later, whereas the correlation between aggressiveness during Grade 3 and the amount of violent television watched a decade later was essentially zero. Following the assumptions of cross-lagged correlation analysis, Eron and his associates inferred a causal relation between observing violence and aggressiveness from these data. For girls, both correlations were not significantly greater than zero. In 1984, Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz, and Walder reported the results of the 22-year follow-up. A positive relationship between childhood television viewing and subsequent aggressiveness was again suggested: The seriousness of crimes for which males were convicted by age 30 was significantly correlated with the amount of television that they had watched and their liking for violent programs as 8-year-olds. Again, aggressiveness at age 8 was not related to either overall viewing practices or preference for violent programs at age 30” (Geen, 1994).
Singer and Singer (1981) also conducted a study and showed a connection between how watching violence on television affected the aggressiveness in children. This study was conducted on nursery school age children for 1-year. “At four times during the year, 2-week periods were designated as probes during which parents kept logs of their children's television viewing. Meanwhile, observers recorded instances of aggressive behavior by the children during school hours. When data were combined across all four probes, aggressive behavior was found to be significantly correlated with the total amount of time spent in watching “action-adventure” programs, all of which manifested high levels of violence. This effect was found for both boys and girls.
The pattern of cross-lagged correlations over the four probe periods led the Singers to conclude that the television viewing was leading to the aggressive behavior over the first two comparisons (i.e., from probe 1 to probe 2 and from probe 2 to probe 3). Over the final comparison (from probe 3 to probe 4), however, the cross-lagged pattern showed that not only was earlier viewing correlated with subsequent aggression, but also that earlier aggression was correlated with subsequent viewing. In other words, by the latter phase of the study a reciprocal effect was being shown. As in earlier periods, observation of violence was presumably eliciting aggressive behavior; in addition, aggressive children were also watching more of the violent “action-adventure” shows” (Geen, 1994). This second finding, that people who are high on the aggressiveness scale might like to watch more violence on television is consistent with the results of the laboratory experiments conducted by Fenigstein (1979). In this experiment, people who had had a history of physical aggression against others tended to select television viewing material that was more violent in nature than compared to those who were not as aggressive. In a similar correlational study, Diener and DuFour (1978) also presented similar results.
Media has always provided children with entertainment and visual imagery and imagination that have worked to enhance their minds and also develop their brains. Media has also helped the children in keeping their fears in check and controlling their anxieties. “Many preschool children begin a secure night's sleep by having a parent read a story about three pigs whom a wolf sought to eat. The two pigs who quickly built shelters of straw and of wood so that they could play the rest of the day were devoured by the wolf. The third built his house of brick and would go out early in the mornings to obtain food while the wolf was still asleep. He eventually scalded to death and ate the big bad wolf. According to Bettelheim (1975), this story “teaches the nursery age child in a most enjoyable and dramatic form that we must not be lazy and take things easy, for if we do we may perish. Intelligence, planning, and foresight, combined with hard labor, will make us victorious over even our most ferocious enemy--the wolf!” (pp. 41-42). It may at first seem odd that a child would choose to be frightened at bedtime, a time often already characterized by anxiety brought on by darkness and by the prospect of being alone. The fairy tale initially increases that anxiety, then provides a mechanism for relief. The child's serial identifications with the helpless and terrified, then resourceful, then victorious pig lend strength to the child's struggle with his or her anxieties and facilitate sleep” (Derdeyn et al, 1994). Thus some researchers stress the fact that violent images in the media are necessary for children since it helps them deal with many things and to motivate the mastery of their own emotions and states of mind.
So what is the conclusion that we come to? Is the violence in media bad for the children, or is some of it necessary? Does viewing violence on television have any adverse affects on the children? Is it the nature of television programming that is more harmful or just watching any kind of television bad? Although many of the laboratory experiments that have been reviewed herein suggest that there is a positive relationship between aggressiveness and television viewing, the research remains inconclusive. But it will not be wrong to face the direction of thought that violence in the media does lead to aggressive behavior, as pointed out by the longitudinal studies that were conducted during the 1980s. “The issue may never be settled to everyone's satisfaction, and certainly more research, using state-of-the-art methodology, is needed to settle the many remaining problems before conclusive evidence may be forthcoming. Even so, at the present time we do appear to have a fairly large amount of what Cook and his colleagues (1983) have called “circumstantial evidence” for a hypothesis that observation of violence on television produces some increase in aggressiveness of the viewers” (Geen, 1994)
Various scholars and researchers have tried to explain the relationship between television violence and aggression in different ways. “Until recently, such explanations were based on theoretical concepts that were popular during the 1960s, such as disinhibition, arousal, and activation of conditioned responses. During the 1980s, two new theoretical explanations emerged, both of which are based on more recent cognitive models of behavior” (Geen, 1994).
So far, the evidence that has been collected from various types of studies, including laboratory experiments, field experiments, longitudinal studies, and archival studies, are in favor of the notion that viewing violence on television does have adverse affects on the aggressiveness of the subjects who are watching the programs. These studies have focused on children, adolescents and young adults, and a wide range of constrained and unconstrained behaviors. Even though there might be many limitations to these studies due to the large number of population and the small number of sample, the results from so many researchers have seemed to point to the same direction. “Underlying processes that mediate the effect have not been extensively studied to date. However, some promising developments in theory are taking place, involving the development of models derived from affective, cognitive, and motivational psychology. The debate over the consequences of television violence for aggression is by no means over, and future studies of the problem will benefit from both the large literature on the subject and the emergence of the new theoretical approaches” (Geen, 1994).
A comprehensive literature review has been presented herein that has purported the role that media can play in the aggressiveness of the viewers. It can be concluded that even though media can play a big role in the way a person grows up to react in a negative way, it is not the only factor that is to be taken in consideration. “But to the extent to which the media can influence behavior and facilitate the expression of violence in certain individuals, it is important that carefully designed interventions be implemented. This is particularly the case since the media can also have clear educational influences in teaching a prosocial message and the complexity of human motivation as shown in our analysis” (Herron et al, 1998) of the various literature presented above. Television is a very popular media and it is expected that people, especially children, will continue to watch television and their lives will continue to be affected by the various programs and shows that they watch. It is very important today, for all the parents, teachers, and model citizens, to get involved and try to make the affects of media as non-violent on our children as possible.
All the parents must monitor the television watching activities of their children. The parents must make sure that they sit and watch television with their children and keep explaining to them what is going on. The children need to know how the violent images shown on television are not real and that they should not try to emulate what they see on television. Parents should not use television as a 'babysitter' and must make the television viewing experience a family affair with the children. “It is our contention that the abdication of parental responsibilities and the erosion of the family are major contributors to the increasing number and the severity of the societal problems we face, including our subject, violent behavior” (Herron et al, 1998).
The teachers in schools must also actively participate in educating the children about what they see on television. “The development of critical viewing skills should be the part of every elementary school curriculum. Curricula for the development of critical viewing skills already exists and has been shown to be effective (e.g., Singer, Singer & Zuckerman, 1981). Teaching children how to watch television more productively is extremely important because the use of educational television and other media appears to be growing in all educational levels” (Herron et al, 1998).
Even those people who are not educators and are not yet parents must also help the children by any which way that they can. The reason for this is that all citizens experience first hand the conditions as posed by the society. The children of today are going to grow up to form the societies of tomorrow. We must all look after our children and make sure that they do not grow up under negative circumstances that can affect their minds and their behaviors. “Our concerns about violence should not only include the need to monitor the kinds of programs our children watch but to advocate an understanding of the personal, family and societal issues which cause violence and determine what role television can play in reaching that understanding” (Herron et al, 1998).
This means that everybody in the community must become involved if we are all to minimize the affects of violence in media on our children. There is a large chance that the violence in the media can propagate the interface and can directly, or indirectly, affect the viewers, especially children. At the same time, however, the same media can also be used to negate the harmful affects. There should be more awareness shows on television that teach children the hazards of violence and these must try to grab their attention without the use of violence or other objectionable material. “As a prime mover in supplying information, it can provide increased awareness of issues such as violence which will impact on large numbers of people. It is our hope that many will seek solutions to such problems by becoming more sophisticated users of what is available to them in the media. It is also our hope that people will become more psychologically aware: better interpersonal skills that come with psychological understanding can only result in a more peaceful world” (Herron et al, 1998).
1. Andison, F. S. (1977). “TV violence and viewer aggression: A cumulation of study results 1956-1976”. Public Opinion Quarterly, 41, 314-331.
2. Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1963). “Vicarious learning and imitative learning”. Psychological Bulletin, 67, 601-607.
3. Belson, W. (1978). Television violence and the adolescent boy. Hampshire, England: Saxon House.
4. Bettelheim B. (1975). The uses of enchantment. The meaning and importance of fairy tales (pp. 41 - 42). New York: Vintage Books, Random House.
5. Bryant J. (Ed.). (1990). Television and the American family. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
6. Cannon, C. (1989, May 28). “Children's advocates pressuring lawmakers”. Miami Herald, p. D2.
7. Coates, B., Pusser, H. E., & Goodman, I. (1976). “The influence of “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” on children's social behavior in preschool”. Child Development, 47, 138-144.
8. Cook T. D., Kendzierski D. A., & Thomas S. V. (1983). “The implicit assumptions of television research: An analysis of the 1982 NIMH Report on Television and Behavior”. Public Opinion Quarterly, 47, 161-201.
9. Diener E., & DuFour D. (1978). “Does television violence enhance program popularity?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 333-341.
10. Dorr A. (1986). Television and children: A special medium for a special audience. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
11. Derdeyn, A.P, and Turley, J.M. (1994). “Television, Films, and the Emotional Life of Children.” In Bryant J, Huston A.C., Zilman D. Media, Children, and the Family: Social Scientific, Psychodynamic, and Clinical Perspectives. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Hillsdale, NJ.
12. Desmond R. J., Singer J. L., & Singer D. G. (1990). “Family mediation: Parental communication patterns and the influences of television on children”. In J. Bryant (Ed.), Television and the American family (pp. 293-310). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
13. Eron L. D., Walder L. O., & Lefkowitz M. M. (1971). Learning of aggression in children. Boston: Little, Brown.
14. Evans, E. D., McCandless, B. R. (1978). Children and youth (2nd ed.) New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
15. Evans, N. J. (1987). “A framework for assisting student affairs staff in fostering moral development”. Journal of Counseling and Development, 66, 191-194.
16. Fenigstein A. (1979). “Does aggression cause a preference for viewing media violence?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2307-2317.
17. Fox, Kaslow, Lewvant, McDaniel, Norton, Storandt & Walker (August, 1994). Media and its impact on our children, our families, and our lives. Presented at the APA 102nd Annual Convention, Los Angeles, CA.
18. Freedman, J. L. (1984). “Effect of television violence on aggression”. Psychological Bulletin, 96, 227-246.
19. Freedman, J. L. (1986). “Television violence and aggression: A rejoinder”. Psychological Bulletin 100, 372-378.
20. Freedman J. L. (1988). “Television violence and aggression: What the evidence shows”. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Applied social psychology annual: Television as a social issue (Vol. 8, pp. 144-162). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
21. Friedrich-Cofer L., & Huston A. C. (1986). “Television violence and aggression: The debate continues”. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 364-371.
22. Gadow, K. D., & Sprafkin, J. (1989). “Field experiments of television violence with children: Evidence for an environmental hazard?” Pediatrics, 83, 399-405.
23. Geen R. G., & Thomas S. L. (1986). “The immediate effects of media violence on behavior”. Journal of Social Issues, 42, 7-27.
24. Geen, R.G. (1994). “Television and Aggression: Recent Developments in Research and Theory.” In Bryant J, Huston A.C., Zilman D. Media, Children, and the Family: Social Scientific, Psychodynamic, and Clinical Perspectives. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Hillsdale, NJ.
25. Greene, A. S. (April, 1992). “Everybody (else) does it: Academic cheating”. Paper presented at the Eastern Psychological Association convention, Boston, MA.
26. Greene, A. S. & Saxe. L. 1991). “Tall tales told to teachers”. Unpublished manuscript.
27. Hearold S. ( 1986). “A synthesis of 1043 effects of television on social behavior”. In G. Comstock (Ed.), Public communication and behavior (Vol. 1, pp. 65-133). New York: Academic Press.
28. Herron, W. G, Javier, R. A., and Primavera, L. (1998). “Violence and the Media: A Psychological Analysis” International Journal of Instructional Media. Volume: 25. Issue: 4.
29. Hoffman, M. S. (Ed.) (1990). World almanac and book of facts. New York: Pharos Books.
30. Huesmann L. R., Eron L. D., Lefkowitz M. M., & Walder L. O. (1984). “Stability of aggression over time and generations”. Developmental Psychology, 20, 1120-1134.
31. Huston A. C., Wright J. C., Rice M. L., Rerkman D., & St. M. Peters ( 1990). “The development of television viewing patterns in early childhood: A longitudinal investigation”. Developmental Psychology, 26, 409-420.
32. Johnson, O. (Ed.). (1990). Information please almanac 1991 New York: Houghton Mifflin.
33. Lefkowitz M. M., Eron L. D., Walder L. O., & Huesmann L. R. (1977). Growing up to be violent. New York: Pergamon.
34. McBee, M. L. (1982). “Moral development: From direction to dialogue”. NASPA Journal, 20, 30-35.
35. McGuire W. J. (1986). “The myth of massive media impact: Savagings and salvagings”. In G. Comstock (Ed.), Public communication and behavior (Vol. 1, pp. 173-257). New York: Academic Press.
36. Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgement of the child. New York: Free Press.
37. Roberts D. F., & Maccoby N. ( 1985). “Effects of mass communication”. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 539-598). New York: Random House
38. Singer J. L., & Singer D. G. (1981). Television, imagination, and aggression: A study of preschoolers. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
39. St. M. Peters, Fitch M., Huston A. C., & Wright J. C., & Eakins D. ( 1991). “Television and families: What do young children watch with their parents?” Child Development, 62, 1409-1423.
40. Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: Norton.
41. West, C. (1993). Race matters, Boston: Beacon Press.
42. Wilson, W., & Hunter, R. (1983). “Movie-inspired violence”. Psychological Reports, 53, 435-441.
43. Winnicott, D. W. (1965). The maturational process and the facilitating environment. New York: International University Press.
44. Wood W., Wong F., & Chachere J. (1991). “Effects of media violence on viewers' aggression in unconstrained social interaction”. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 371-383
45. Wright J. C., St. M. Peters, & Huston A. C. (1990). “Family television use and its relation to children's cognitive skills and social behavior”. In J. Bryant (Ed.), Television and the American family (pp. 227-252). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
A few risk factors for youth violence occur before birth. Others come into play as the child develops in response to his or her family and surroundings. Thus, most of the risk factors that exert an effect before puberty are found in the individual and family domains rather than in the larger world, a situation that changes dramatically in adolescence. Childhood risk factors are listed by domain in Box 4-1; effect sizes are listed in Table 4-1.
The most powerful early risk factors for violence at age 15 to 18 are involvement in general offenses and substance use before age 12. General offenses include serious, but not necessarily violent acts, such as burglary, grand theft, extortion, and conviction for a felony. Children engaging in such crimes often come to the attention of the police and juvenile justice system. Numerous studies have documented the overlap between serious nonviolent and violent offenses in adolescence, so early involvement in serious offenses carries a substantial risk for violence later.
Experimentation with drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or some combination of these substances is not particularly unusual by age 18, but use of these substances by children under the age of 12 is. Not only are these substances harmful to health, they are illegal. Thus, use of these substances signals antisocial attitudes and early involvement in a delinquent lifestyle that often comes to include violent behavior in adolescence (Fagan, 1993).
Two moderate risk factors emerge in childhood, being male and aggression. Boys (and young men) are far more likely than girls to be violent (see Chapter 2), yet some researchers have suggested that sex is a risk marker rather than a risk factor (Earls, 1994; Hawkins et al., 1998a; Kraemer et al., 1997). A risk marker is a characteristic or condition that is associated with known risk factors but exerts no causal influence of its own (Earls, 1994; Patterson & Yoerger, 1997). 5 For example, many more boys than girls are hyperactive, a risk factor with a small effect size, so some of the predictive power of being male may actually be the influence of hyperactivity. Moreover, boys have traditionally been exposed to more violence than girls, and socially approved male role models are more aggressive, suggesting that social learning plays a role in this risk factor. However, research indicates that being male confers risk even after accounting for other known risk factors. This suggests that being male is a risk factor rather than a risk marker, perhaps with some biological or biological-environmental interaction as the causal mechanism.
Many studies have found aggression -- characterized as aggressive and disruptive behavior, verbal aggression, and aggression toward objects -- to be a moderate risk factor among boys, although there is some evidence that physical aggressiveness is actually responsible for most of the observed effect (Nagin & Tremblay, 1999). Additional research is needed to sort out the unique influence of each of these types of aggression.
The remaining individual risk factors have relatively small effect sizes. Various psychological conditions, such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, daring, and short attention span, pose a small risk for violence. A consistent individual predictor is hyperactivity/low attention, the central components of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a cognitive disorder that may be genetically influenced in some way (Hawkins et al., 1998a). ADHD is characterized by restlessness, excessive activity, and difficulty paying attention, traits that may also contribute to low academic performance, a risk factor in school. Hyperactivity is often found in combination with physical aggression, another risk factor. Some researchers question the independent effect of hyperactivity on later violence, suggesting that the effect is actually physical aggression (and perhaps low academic performance) that was not controlled for in earlier studies of hyperactivity (Nagin & Tremblay, 1999). There is little agreement about the mechanism linking hyperactivity to violence.
The effects of children's exposure to television and film violence have been studied extensively in regard to aggression, but there is relatively little research regarding the effects on more serious forms of violent behavior (for an extended discussion, see Appendix 4-B). Experimental studies have found that exposure to media violence has a small average effect size (.13) on serious forms of violence (Paik & Comstock, 1994); the average effect size in cross-sectional survey studies was very small (.06). Two frequently cited longitudinal studies have examined the effects that exposure to television violence in childhood produces on violent behavior during adolescence or early adulthood. One, in which participants reported having punched, beaten, or choked someone as young adults, found a significant predictive effect for women (.22) but no significant effect for men (Huesmann et al., (submitted)). The other study, in which teenage males reported being involved in a knife fight, car theft, mugging, gang fight, or similar delinquent behavior, found a statistically significant predictive effect in only one of nine tests (Milavsky et al., 1982). Exposure to violence appears to have a weak predictive effect on relatively immediate violence in experimental studies, but there is little consistent evidence to date for a long-term predictive effect.
Little research has been done on violence in other media -- video games, music videos, and the Internet. A recent meta-analysis by Anderson and Bushman (in press) reports that video game violence has a small average effect size (.19) on physical aggression in experimental and cross-sectional studies. Theoretically, the influence of these interactive media might well be greater than that of television and films, which present a passive form of exposure, but there are no studies to date of the effects of exposure to these types of media violence and violent behavior.
Problem behavior, another risk factor with a small effect size, refers to relatively minor problem behaviors such as stealing, truancy, disobedience, and temper tantrums. While not serious in themselves, antisocial behaviors may set the stage for more serious nonviolent or violent behavior later.
The medical or physical risk factor includes a number of conditions that as a group are somewhat predictive of violence. Prenatal and early postnatal complications, a more specific set of medical conditions, have been found to have inconsistent effects across a number of studies (Hawkins et al., 1998c). These complications encompass a broad group of genetic conditions or physical injuries to the brain and nervous system that interfere with normal development, including low birth weight, oxygen deprivation, and exposure to toxins such as lead, alcohol, or drugs (Hawkins et al., 1998b). Low resting heart rate, a condition that has been studied primarily in boys, is associated with fearlessness or stimulation seeking, both characteristics that may predispose them to aggression and violence (Raine et al., 1997; Hawkins et al., 1998c), but there is not enough evidence to establish this condition as a risk factor for violence. Some studies have even questioned its effects on aggression (Van Hulle et al., 2000; Wadsworth, 1976; Kindlon et al., 1995). There is also no evidence that internalizing disorders -- nervousness and withdrawal, anxiety, and worrying -- are related to later violence (Hawkins et al., 1998c).
Low IQ, or low intelligence, includes learning problems and poor language ability. This risk factor has a small effect size and is often accompanied by other risk factors with small effect sizes, such as hyperactivity/low attention and poor performance in school.
Antisocial beliefs and attitudes, including dishonesty, rule-breaking, hostility to police, and a generally favorable attitude toward violence, usually constitute a risk factor in adolescence, not childhood (Hawkins et al., 1998c). Only dishonesty in childhood is predictive of later violence or delinquency, and its effect is small.
There are no known strong risk factors for youth violence in the family domain, but low socioeconomic status/poverty and having antisocial parents are moderate factors. Socioeconomic status generally refers to parents' education and occupation as well as their income. Poorly educated parents may be unable to help their children with schoolwork, for example, and children living in poor neighborhoods generally have less access to recreational and cultural opportunities. In addition, many poor families live in violent neighborhoods, and exposure to violence can adversely affect both parents and children, as described above. Limited social and economic resources contribute to parental stress, child abuse and neglect, damaged parent-child relations, and family breakup -- all risk factors with small effects in childhood.
Studies suggest that antisocial parents -- that is, violent, criminal parents -- represent an environmental rather than a genetic risk factor (Moffitt, 1987). In other words, children learn violent behavior by observing their parents rather than by inheriting a propensity for violence. In fact, attachment to parents, a possible protective factor, can have the opposite effect if the parents are violent (Hawkins et al., 1998c).
Among the early risk factors with small effect sizes on youth violence is poor parent-child relations. One specific risk factor in this class -- harsh, lax, or inconsistent discipline -- is also somewhat predictive of later violence (Hawkins et al., 1998c). Children need reasonable, consistent discipline to establish the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Children who are treated harshly may view rough treatment as acceptable, those who are given no guidance may engage in whatever behavior gets them what they want, and children who receive mixed signals are completely at sea regarding appropriate behavior. Other family conditions, such as high stress, large size, and marital discord, also exert a small effect on later violence.
Another childhood predictor with a small effect size is broken homes, a category that includes divorced, separated, or never-married parents and a child's separation from parents before age 16. Separation from parents also operates as a distinct risk factor, again with a small effect size.
Abusive parenting in general and neglect in particular are predictors of later violence, but they have very small effect sizes. Neglect operates as a distinct risk factor, possibly because neglected children are less likely to be supervised or taught appropriate behavior. This is not to imply that child abuse and neglect do not cause serious problems in adolescence: Indeed, they have large effects on mental health problems, substance abuse, and poor school performance (Belsky & Vondra, 1987; Cicchetti & Toth, 1995; Dembo et al., 1992; Esbensen & Huizinga, 1991; Silverman, et al., 1996; Smith & Thornberry, 1995). This finding is discussed in more detail below, in the section on unexpected findings and effects.
The only early risk factor in the school domain is poor attitude toward and performance in school, and its effects are small. Numerous individual and family factors may contribute to poor performance, making it a fairly broad measure. For example, a child who is physically aggressive and is rejected by peers or who has difficulty concentrating or sitting still in class may understandably have difficulty performing academic tasks. Children who have been exposed to violence, as noted earlier, may also have trouble concentrating in school.
Young children do not socialize extensively with other children and are not strongly influenced by peers. Peers become more important as children progress through elementary school, although school-age children still look primarily to parents for cues on how to behave. Nonetheless, weak social ties to conventional peers and associating with antisocial peers both exert small effects in childhood.
Children with weak social ties are those who attend few social activities and have low popularity with conventional peers. School-age children often reject physically aggressive children because of their inappropriate behavior (Hann & Borek, in press; Reiss & Roth, 1993). The combination of rejection and aggressiveness exacerbates behavior problems, making it more difficult for aggressive children to form positive relationships with other children. Indeed, recent research indicates that children who are both aggressive and rejected show poorer adjustment in elementary school than children who are aggressive, rejected, or neither (Hann & Borek, in press).
Being drawn to antisocial peers may introduce or reinforce antisocial attitudes and behavior in children. Indeed, aggressive children tend to seek each other out (Hann & Borek, in press).
Community risk factors, such as living in socially disorganized neighborhoods or neighborhoods with high rates of crime, violence, and drugs, are not powerful individual-level predictors in childhood because these external influences have less direct impact on children than on adolescents. They may well exert indirect influences through poor parenting practices, lack of family resources, and parent criminality or antisocial behavior.