Does Violence in Cartoons Desensitize Young Children?

Does Violence in Cartoons Desensitize Young Children? A Critical View Donald Duck, Elmer Fud, Wiley Coyote, Tom/Jerry, Fred Flintstone, and Batman; are all loveable cartoon characters that exist in the cartoons children watch every day. Another thing these characters have in common is their general everyday violent behaviors. These behaviors send a subliminal message to children suppressing their moral restraint on basic assault toward each other. Violence in youth has been a rising topic, and continues to grow with more studies and research each year.
Although people may blame many things, I believe the violence depicted as humor or the “super hero effect” in cartoons has a direct relation to the desensitization of violence in the American youth. Research has exposed that young children will imitate aggressive acts they see on television, and recreate those acts when playing with their friends. ” Before age 4, children are unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy and may view violence as an ordinary occurrence. (Berensin) Through critical analysis I plan to examine the effects of violence in cartoons as well as the comedic perception and the super hero effect in order to determine if they relate partly or completely too violent behaviors of young children. Every argument has more than one perception, so I will also be examining some research suggesting that cartoon violence in fact does not affect developing children. Watch an old Looney Toon, if you have a choice, watch an episode of Elmer Fud chasing Bugs Bunny.
To any viewer you see the humor in it; a bunny is jumping all over dodging this slow hunter, his terrible aim, and his shotgun that never needs to be reloaded. But the reality is this hunter is ferociously chasing this bunny literally just trying to kill it. Use the same reality comparison with the Roadrunner cartoons, the coyote is a predator chasing after his dinner and using every possible resource to complete it; yea he never catches his prey, but you can try and imagine the violent episode that would entail if he did.

How about all the explosions and incredible distances the coyote deals with and never seems to die, that doesn’t send the right image. I’m not saying they should show death but not showing it can give children the idea that these acts won’t affect them and that they would also be able to walk away. Violence in cartoons has been around for a lot longer then we think, in fact there is more violence depicted in a cartoon, than in live action dramas or comedies (Potter and Warren 1998). In a sense, children see more violence during a Saturday morning than a Friday night.
Although this is a pretty strong convincing argument there is always another perspective. For example, the violence in cartoons yes is more frequent, but it isn’t as strong as it is on prime time TV. Bam Bam hitting someone on the head with his mallet compared to a short rape scene in Law and order, pretty big difference. Many cartoons show characters dying but the way it is perceived it’s considered funny. Prime time television shows murder depicted in a pretty real state with no joke or laughing afterwards. In 2007, Kremar and Hight found that preschoolers who watched an action cartoon or super-hero image, as opposed to young children who watched neutral video clips or animated characters, were more likely to create aggressive story endings”(An Opposing View). These conclusions brought about the idea that aggression may be related to aggressive behavior. How does the outcome television violence usually end in destructive behavior? That brings us to another form of cartoon violence, the super hero effect. By super hero I mean super hero cartoons; Batman, Superman, Spiderman, transformers etc.
All these cartoons depict violence without the comedic effect but instead with a real life scenario. “Heroes are violent, and, as such, are rewarded for their behavior. They become role models for youth. It is “cool” to carry an automatic weapon and use it to knock off the “bad guys. ” The typical scenario of using violence for a righteous cause may translate in daily life into a justification for using violence to retaliate against perceived victimizers” (Berensin) Everyone sees Batman beating up the Joker and instead of being worried or concerned, they’re cheering.
They’re hoping that the hero will win the fight. Batman is showing how he solves his conflicts with violence rather than reason and debate. The good guys against the villains, and just because it’s usually the good buy beating up the bad guy, it’s still a form of violence that can be subconsciously affecting them. Kids could be going to school and argue who stepped into line first; next thing you know they’re pushing and shoving over it, then throwing punches, imitating their favorite super heroes.
In an extreme example; a ten year old boy from Everett, Washington died in 2008 imitating a stunt him and their friends saw on a popular cartoon, Naruto. Naruto has this ability to dig himself into sand and breathe through a straw. The children thinking they could execute this like Naruto came to an unexpected and very sad conclusion. Those children lost a close friend that could have possibly been avoided had they been educated on the diversity of animation and reality.
This brings us to another problem with super heroes on television, which is the characters, no matter how much damage or violence they receive, continue to remain unharmed and alive. When in reality if any human being actually received any pain like they are, they obviously would not be alive. Superman surviving a hailstorm of bullets is the best example that comes to mind. Yvette Middleton and Sandra Vanterpool wrote an essay; TV Cartoons: Do Children Think They Are Real? , regarding whether children can differentiate between what is real and what is fantasy in cartoons, as well as how they respond to them.
On page five of their essay they go on to say; “When our young children watch cartoons with these types of violence, they start to visualize themselves as their favorite cartoon character and decide that if they are that character, they won’t be harmed if they get shot of run over by the bad guy” It’s when the child imitates these characters that they could be seriously hurt or hurt someone else. A parent’s duty comes into play when they sit down with the child and explain what happens scene by scene. Something a child sees on television isn’t necessarily bad seeing it once or twice.
After those first two a parent could explain what scenes send a bad message. Instead the child watches time and time again, each time desensitizing their moral defense, eventually leading to frequent violent behavior. For example; every time a child sees a violent act they first see it as bad. As time progresses and they see more and more, the child begins to simply absorb the message as if it were an everyday occurrence. They may come to see violence as a fact of life and, over time, lose their ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. It’s at that point that it becomes a problem.
Eugene V Beresin, the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote an article for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Today 99% of homes have televisions. In fact, more families have televisions than telephones. Over half of all children have a television set in their bedrooms…children watch approximately 28 hours of television a week, more time than they spend in school. ” That’s four hours an average day, that’s a sixth of their lives. That’s plenty of time for the children to withhold the messages they get from violent cartoons.
Children can recognize and recall these events because they laugh afterwards and think of it as a tolerable way to respond to someone’s actions. Televised violence and the inhabitance of televisions in American households have increased steadily over the years. Beresin continues on to say “The typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence, including more than 16,000 murders before age 18. Television programs display 812 violent acts per hour; children’s programming, particularly cartoons, displays up to 20 violent acts hourly. Now hopefully a young child is only watching cartoons and not a police or crime show. But four hours a day with twenty violent acts hourly, that’s eighty violent acts scene daily. That can put a toll on a developing child’s moral psych. With every argument there are two sides. As I mentioned previously there are other perceptions and different cultural views on cartoon violence. I came across an article by Fran Blumberg, Kristen Bierwirth, and Allison Schwartz, titled; Does Cartoon Violence Beget Aggressive Behavior in Real Life?
An Opposing View. The ladies explain; “Despite increased realism in animation over time, most preschoolers still recognize cartoon programs as “make-believe”, and can differentiate cartoon characters engaged in life-like activities from those engaged in pretend activities. ” Basically what they’re getting at is that children have the ability to realize that cartoons are not real, know that the violence is only animated, and understand that it is wrong. To prove anything is wrong people always rely on the science of it.
V Mathews was one of the authors who composed the article, Media violence liked to concentration, published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography. Mathews confirms “Neurological evidence of a link between exposure to violence on television and brain functioning. Speci? cally, non-aggressive children who had been exposed to high levels of media violence showed less activity in the frontal cortex, that area of the brain linked to attention and self-control. ” Non-aggressive children who already had a grip on what was morally right and wrong I would assume were the ones used. So they weren’t children who were brand new to violence.
Also there is a slight hole in the study. It was measured directly after the children watched the violent cartoons, and not over a long period of time, which is what we’re dealing with. A study taken by Yvette Middleton and Sandra Vanterpool surveyed twenty-three third graders from the Fordham section of the Bronx. “We asked them fourteen questions based on the amount of time they spent watching cartoons, the types of cartoons they watch and their opinions on whether cartoons are real or not. ” (Middleton and Vanterpool) 87% of the students surveyed said they watch cartoons before school, after school, and while doing their homework.
If that wasn’t enough, 86% of the students watch cartoons before bed. With twenty-five to thirty violent acts an hour (Middleton and Vanterpool) that is a lot of negative information that child is absorbing. The ladies continue their results; “78% of the students said they watch cartoons with a sibling or fiend. 17% of the students said that they watch cartoons by themselves, but only 4% said that they watch cartoons with a parent” (Middleton and Vanterpool) Only four percent of third graders watch cartoons with their parents.
Now that is just not high enough. With cartoon violence becoming a rising problem parents need to stop using the television as a babysitter and know what their children are watching. On the subject of the students’ favorite cartoon, Rugrats was chosen as the top favorite, a quite non-violent Nickelodeon Cartoon. Second was Pokemon, a cartoon involving people using different animals/pets and pitting them against each other to settle their differences, definitely violent.
The third was Dragon Ball Z, an extremely violent anime involving numerous characters always fighting each other for control, also chosen as the most popular action cartoon as well as the top favorite if they were limited to one cartoon a day (Middleton and Vanterpool). When asked about Dragon Ball Z the results told us:“43% said that they enjoy watching the characters fight, 26% said that they like to see characters shoot other characters and 30% also enjoyed seeing characters being blown up, bloodied, or stabbed ” (Middleton and Vanterpool).
That is discouraging; this is a television show that children should not be watching. If these are the thoughts that go through their mind while watching, think about what they think of when they aren’t watching. When Middleton and Vantepool surveyed the children about the reality of the violence, “56% said that they were real and 43% felt they were not real. ” That is not a good statistic, over half of the class thought that the characters were real. These are fictional people who literally destroy each other and third grade children think they are real. 86% agreed they come back to life to start the action all over again, whereas 13% felt a character remains dead and is never seen again. ” That is a large amount of children who are uneducated on the subject of death. But from another perspective, they are just children and more than likely can’t comprehend death, and they are just going off what they see in the show. Some interesting information came up when the children were asked what they think happens to real people die. “47% said the person goes to heaven, 47% said the person goes to hell, and 4% said the person goes under the ground and comes back as a flower. (Middleton and Vantepool) So you can see how these are still children and aren’t mature enough to understand what is really happening in a cartoon. This again just brings up the parenting aspect. In the 2004 Conference on Interaction and Design and Children, an article was published about preschoolers moral judgments and their distinctions between realistic and cartoon-fantasy transgressions. M. Peters and F. C. Blumberg explained in good detail about a study they conducted using three and four year old children.
They examined how the children reacted to pictures of both factual human and animated moral transgressions including; hitting, pushing, stealing, and failing to share. (Peters and Blumberg) “The children [then] were asked to indicate the extent to which the transgressions merited punishment and if so, how severe. They also were asked to justify this assessment. We found that preschoolers negatively evaluated all moral transgressions, both realistic and cartoon (Peters and Blumberg). ” Again the problem arises with the short amount of exposure time.
Although since they were three and four years old I would assume that they had been watching cartoons for an already long time. Peters and Blumberg continue to review their findings “When perceiving the magnitude of the transgression, children viewed physical harm as more egregious than that of psychological harm. Speci? cally, hitting was seen as more harmful to others and as deserving of greater punishment than failing to share. ” This meant that children do retain some information pertaining to their morals while they’re progressing as children. They were able to realize what was more ethical and correct.
What was really interesting was how the preschoolers judged cartoon infringement as more harmful than the realistic human transgressions. “Because cartoons are characterized by exaggerated facial expressions and body actions, these characteristics may have in? uenced the children’s perceptions of the cartoon transgressions as ‘‘bad. ’’ (Peters and Blumberg)” With that information we can think about how much those characteristics actually come into play in the maturing stages of a child’s life. The message could be more of a learning experience for them instead of pro violence advice.
Children could be using these cartoons as an example for instances in the future. It’s absolutely possible that children would use these when faced with a real life issues and fix the situation without using violence. Writing this paper has been an eye opener for me. At the beginning I was on the side against cartoon violence, agreeing that it does make children more violent in nature. But after all the research I did I am now on the fence with the situation. It can desensitize the children but also help them to learn what is right and what is wrong.
Ultimately the parent comes into the play the most. I wouldn’t agree that sitting you child in front of the television is a bad idea, but what programs the children watch should be monitored. Also, using the television as a baby sitter is not a recommended idea. Children love cartoons, I know I still do, and there is no reason they have to stop watching them, but Mom and Dad should make sure what is happening in these cartoons is put into context for the child. So the child can differentiate and decide for themselves the difference between cartoon animation and reality.
Beresin, Eugene V, M. D. “The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions. ” American Academy of Child ; Adolescent Psychiatry. Web. 11 May 2010. http://www. aacap. org/cs/root/developmentor Blumberg, Fran, Kristen Bierwirth, and Allison Schwartz. “Does Cartoon Violence Beget Aggressive Behavior in Real Life? An Opposing View. ” Early Childhood Education Journal Oct. 2008: 101+. Education Research Complete. Web. 1 Apr. 2012. Mathews, V. P. , Kronenberger, W. G. , Wang, Y. , Lurito, J. T. , Lowe, M. J. , ; Dunn, D.
W. (2005). Media violence linked to concentration, self-control. Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography, 29, 287–292. Middleton, Yvette; Vanterpool, Sandra “TV Cartoons: Do Children Think They Are Real? ” Reports-Research. Web Published 1999 http://www. eric. ed. gov. ezproxy. lib. uwm. edu/PDFS/ED437207. pdf Peters, K. M. , ; Blumberg, F. C. (2004). Preschoolers’ moral judgments: Distinctions between realistic and cartoon-fantasy transgressions. Proceedings of the 2004 Conference on Interaction Design and Children: Building a Community (pp. 131–132). New York: ACM

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