Media’s Influence on Youth

Glen E. Dawursk, Jr.


Introduction: What is going on?

  • In 1994, two teenagers assassinated a Milwaukee police officer for the “fun of it.”
  • In 1995, three teenagers tortured, killed and then raped Elyse Marie Pahler in an apparent satanic sacrifice.
  • In 1995, Clay Logan shot his parents multiple times and killed his mother.
  • In 1998, Burlington High school youth in Burlington, Wisconsin plotted to massacre their school. 
  • In 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 people and themselves at their high school in Columbine, CO.
  • In 2001, in Santee, CA, a 15 year old boy shoots 2 teenagers and injures 13 others at his high school because he was tired of being taunted for being too skinny.

Two days after the Santee murders, Time magazine reported the following incidents occurred:

    •  “In California, 16 students were detained for death threats; two 17 year old students were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder; authorities found a "hit list" of 16 students; and another 15 year old student boasted that he could outdo the Columbine High School massacre.
    • In Arizona, a 13 year old girl left a bomb threat on an answering machine; an eighth-grader was accused of threatening to bring a gun to school to shoot sixth-graders and another 13 year old threatened to shoot classmates who teased him.
    • In Florida, a 17 year old carried a loaded semiautomatic handgun to school and another 17 year old carried a revolver with a sawed off barrel to his former school.
    • In Washington, a 16 year old pulled out a gun and ordered the students to leave class.
    • In Georgia, a sixth-grader was arrested for bringing a BB gun onto the school campus.
    • In Pennsylvania, a 14 year old girl fired a single shot hitting another student in the cafeteria.
    • In Iowa, a 15 year old threatened to get a gun and shoot everyone in school.

o      In Texas, a freshman was expelled after he was caught with a hit list of his own.”  (McCarthy, 2001, p. 7)


In October 2002, a 36 year old man was beaten to death by a group of north side Milwaukee youth.  This was not a gang.  These youth were just “kids” from the block who retaliated violently against this man.  Their mob mentality caused them to brutally kill him – pummeling him with bats, shovels, boards and their fists.  According to one of the youth, they hit this man so often that the victim’s ear tore off.   Blood was splattered on the floor and the ceiling. This alarming statistic would have probably been relegated to old news by now if it had not been for one haunting fact.  One of these boys was just 10 years old.  (Thorsen, 2002, p.1)


What is going on? 
What is causing today’s youth to act out in such a violent nature?  What is influencing them to depart from societal and religious morals, values and ethics?


Interestingly, in many of the examples above, the media had a seemingly direct influence on the results.  The youth who killed the police officer stated in court that they were influenced by the lyrics of Tupac Shakur’s song “2 Pacalypse Now” which glamorizes the killing of a policeman.  The murder and torture of the Pahler girl has been linked to the song “Spill Blood” by Slayer and in the past year, the parents of the girl have sought to punish the record company.  Clay Logan acted out the words of “The End” by the Doors as he shot his parents and Klebold and Harris made a video tape the night before their murderous rampage bragging about how they could now play the game “Doom” for real. (Smithouser & Waliszewski, 1998, p.13-15)


Is there a connection? 
How serious is the impact and influence of the media upon the moral and ethical judgments of junior and senior high youth?  Is there a direct correlation?  If so, what can be done to correct these problems or issues? 

In this article, I will first present current statistics which show an increase in youth violence throughout the country.  I will next give statistical information on current media usage by youth.  It will also illustrate a significant increase in violence, offensive behavior and negative religious values portrayed within the media.  I will show where the current research falls on the question of a direct correlation between the media and its influence upon youth and children. Finally, I will then explain how our brains work, share new research in this area and suggest a possible correlation to media influence.   



Point 1: Violence across the nation has
increased significantly during the past decade


In a survey of 1038 students in 1999, 19% said they had been hit, slapped or kicked at school and 25% say they are afraid another student will hurt them; 80% said they had bullied their peers in the past 30 days (Peterson, 1999, p.1D).  Over 50% of American teenagers think a “murderous rampage” could happen at their school (NYT/CBS 1999, p. 14).  In 1996, 10 percent of all public schools reported at least one serious violent crime to a law enforcement agency (AACAP, 2000). According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s “Violent Facts Sheet,” gunshot wounds to children 16 and under has increased 300 percent in major urban areas since 1986 and in 1996 alone, 2,900 juveniles were arrested for murder (2000).  The US Justice Department said that if the current trend continues, arrests of juveniles for violent crimes will double by the year 2010 (Associated Press, 1995, p. 4A).  The AACAP website also reports that almost a million American students took guns to school in 1998, that 123,400 youth are arrested each year for violent crimes, and ages 25 and under account for almost 50% of all serious violent crime victims (2000).


ABC News 20/20 reported that in 1986, just 9% of those arrested for murder were under 17, but by 1996 it was up to17%.  In those 10 years, youth who killed with guns quadrupled (1996).  The Commission for the Prevention of Youth Violence, a coalition of American health care professionals states the following: 

·       “One in every eight murder victims in the US is younger than 18. Almost 40 children and adolescents are killed by violence each week.

·       Murder and suicide are the second and third leading causes of death among teenagers between the ages 15 to 19. Among 10 to 14 year olds, they are third and fourth.

·       In an average month, there are more than 525,000 violent attacks in public schools. Nearly 8% of urban junior and senior high school students are too afraid to go to school at least once a month.” (Terek & Webster, 2000; AMA, 2000)



Point 2: Media consumption by youth and children is significant. 


According to  the statistics furnished by the National Institute for Media and the Family, ages 12-17 average 22 hours of TV per week and 55% listen to 5 or more hours of recordings per week (tapes, records, CD’s).  Ages 15-19 buy one-fourth of all recordings and they buy 38% of all movie tickets (Walsh, 1999).  The average American child grows up in a home with two TVs, three tape players, three radios, two VCRs, two CD players, one video game player and one computer (Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999).  70-80% of the U.S. population reads magazines and newspapers monthly (Bruner, 2002).



The average house in America has 2.6 television sets and 56% of children have a TV in their room (Walsh, 1999).  “Teenagers spend: 1/2 hour a week with Dad alone, 2-1/2 hours a week with Mom alone, 5 hours a week doing home work, 2 hours a week reading, and 24 hours a week watching television” (Walsh, 1999). Dr. David Walsh of the NIMF states that, “Youth today spend as much time today in front of a TV as they do in a classroom (1999).” 98% of teenagers spend 11 hours per week minimum in front of a TV (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1999, p. 38). 


MTV alone reaches 350 million households around the world (PBS On-Line, 2001).  82% of its viewers are ages12 to 34 with almost 40% under the age of 18.  According to research, MTV is the “most recognized network among young adults ages 12 to 34” (Nielson Media Research, 2000).  In fact, music videos are designed predominately for teenagers 12 to 19 years old.  In this age group, 73% of the boys and 78% of the girls watch MTV regularly.  Boys average 6.6 hours, while girls average of 6.2 hours per week watching MTV (Rich, 1998).


The Center for Media Education quotes these statistics on their website:

  • “Most children watch an average of 3 to 4 hours of TV per day, approximately 28 hours each week.
  • Watching TV is the #1 after-school activity for 6 to 17 year olds.
  • Each year most children spend about 1500 hours in front of the TV and 900 hours in the classroom.
  • By age 70, most people will have spent about 10 years watching TV” (CME, 1997).


A parent’s opinion study conducted in 2000, showed that children ages 2 to 17 spent 6.5 hours a day in front of some electronic video screen (TV, video games console, computer, game boy) and 97% of all homes own a VCR (Woodard, 2000).  A national survey found that 92% of children ages 2-17 play video and computer games (NIMF, 2001).  98.2% of U.S. households own a television set. 99.9% of those are color (TBA, 2001). 30 million households have a DVD player and 90% of US households have a VCR (Lyman, 2002, A1) and 78% of adults surveyed report that they have home cable or satellite television (NPR, 2000).


Computers and the Internet:

Almost 45% of homes with youth ages 12 to 17 have internet access (HMR, 1999).  Almost 80% of US households with children have a computer and just over 70% of them have Internet access (NTIA, 2001).  As many as 21.9 million children ages 5 to 12 and 16.6 million teenagers 13 to 18 are “online” (Barron’s,  1999).  A 1999 survey by eShop Weekly found that 67% of online youth ages 13-17 and 37% of online children ages 5-12 check out products or purchase online and 52% have asked their parents to do it for them (1999).  It was estimated that youth ages 5 to 18 may have purchased as much as 1.3 billion online by 2002 (Charski, 1999, p. 89). 


54% of children ages 10 -17 access computer chat rooms and 31% admit to seeing a pornographic site on the Internet (National Public Radio, 2000).  25% of home Internet users in the United States use broadband (DSL or cable) for their Internet connection (Bruner, 2002). Of youth ages 8 to17, 33% preferred the Web as the medium they would want to have if they could not have any others; TV came in second at 26%, telephone at 21% and radio at 15% (MediaPost, 2002, May 2).


Music – CD’s and Radio:

Pre-teens and teens combined listen to music (including radio, CDs, tapes and music videos) almost 4 hours per day. By their junior year in high school, girls listen to music a half-hour more than boys do each day (Roberts & Christenson, 2001). Around 96% of teenagers listen to the radio weekly (HMR, 1999) and 45% of American teens listen to FM radio (Zollo, 1999).  Teenagers consider musicians their real heroes more often than athletes and rate the effect of music on them higher than religious beliefs or literature (Knight-Ridder, 1999).


Other  Media Technologies:

Almost one-third of all American teens carry at least one cell phone (Rodriguez, 2002, E4) and four our out of ten youth ages four to eighteen, own at least one cell phone, Palm organizer, pocket PC, pager or ultra light laptop.  50% of teenagers ages 13 to 18 own at least one of these portable devices and older youth often own several of them. 42% of kids age’s eight to twelve and 13% of kids under seven also own at least one of these portable devices (MediaPost, 2002, Sept. 30).


Point 3: There has been a significant increase in violence, offensive behavior and negative religious values portrayed by the media.



The Parents Television Council reviewed 38 reality series between Jan.1, 2002 and May1, 2002 and found that on broadcast television, NBC and UPN had the highest level of offensive content, 19 and 14.9 instances of offensive content per hour. On cable, VH1 and MTV offered the most offensive content with 39.7 and 36.1 instances per hour (PTC, 2002). The Center for Media Education quotes the following data on violence:

  • “Children may be exposed to about 5 violent acts per hour during prime time and an average of 26 violent acts per hour during Saturday morning children’s programs.
  • Prime-time TV contains about 5 violent acts per hour compared to an average of 26 violent acts per hour during Saturday morning children's TV.” (CME, 2002)


Upon grade school graduation, the average child will see more than 100,000 violent acts on television, including almost 8,000 murders.  Upon high school graduation, these same children will have witnessed 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders (Huston, et al, 1992).   A three year study on media violence showed that:

  • “61% of television programs contain some violence,
  • 43% of violent scenes contained humor -- where the violators
    were portrayed as acceptable or appealing,
  • 44% showed no “immediate punishment”
  • Almost 75% showed no harmful consequences at all” (Smith and Donnerstein, 1998).


Of the most popular video games on the market as many as 90% of them have a violent theme (Anderson, 2001).  Consider one of the best selling games of the past two years, “Grand Theft Auto.”  In this video game, you play the part of a criminal who escapes from the law and joins the mob.  Your new job is to steal, kill and pimp for organized crime.  You will also bomb a passenger plane, drive prostitutes around, and murder people. In addition, the game encourages you to try illegal and brutally violent moves in order to get extra points.  For example, you get extra points for running people over, shooting a guy after you steal his car, hiring a hooker and then beating her to death (Smithouser, 2002).  A new game, Acclaim Entertainment’s M-rated BMX XXX is set in the world of extreme BMX biking. It features video footage of strippers which gamers can access as rewards for excellent play and it includes missions where you help a pimp pick up his prostitutes.  Advertising on the net for the game includes dogs having sex, people throwing-up and scantily clad woman with their pimp. Examples of other popular violent video games include Duke Nukem and Doom.  Research shows that 59% of fourth grade girls and 73% of fourth grade boys say that most of their favorite video games involve violence (Anderson, 2001).


“According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry the troublesome lyrics of some teen music advocate and glamorize the abuse of drugs or alcohol, present suicide as a "solution", display graphic violence, dwell on the occult with Satanism and human sacrifice, describe harmful sexual practices, incest, and are devaluing of women.”  (NIMF 2001)


Heavy metal music has always been an avenue for counter-culture and liberal thinking.  Much of the music’s lyrics condone free sex, drug uses and radical and often dangerous lifestyles. Artists like Marilyn Manson, Korn and Eminem have tested these freedoms of speech through their lyrics.  Marilyn Manson readily refers to himself as the “anti-Christ” or as an anti-god.  His music videos and concerts encourage suicide and his message easily goes into the face of the organized church: 

·        “You can kill yourself now because you’re dead in my mind”  (Man That You Fear)

·       “I am the faggot anti-pope” (1996)

·       “I will bury your God in my warm spit” (Deformography)

·       “All American AntiChrist” (Rock & Roll Nigger)

·        “I am the Anti-music god.” “Here's your Antichrist Superstar” (AntiChrist Superstar)

·       “I’ve got abortions in my eyes…I wasn’t born with enough middle fingers” “I am the ism, my hate's a prism; Let's just kill everyone and your god sort them out  F*** it! (4 Times)” (Irresponsible Hate Anthem)

·       “You'll understand when I'm dead I went to god just to see, and I was looking at me, saw heaven and hell were lies. When I'm god everyone dies. Scar can you feel my power? Shoot here and the world gets smaller ...One shot and the world gets smaller...Shoot here and the world gets smaller. Shoot, shoot, shoot motherf***er!”

·       "Each thing I show you is a piece of my death. No salvation, Ha ha, no forgiveness. No salvation, Ha ha, no forgiveness!”(The Reflecting God)

·       We are not a victim, you are not a victim. God will grovel before me.
God will crawl at my ?
(Hidden Track #99)

The Marilyn Manson t-shirt wore by Clay Logan, the young man who shot his parents illustrated Manson’s violent anti-establishment message clearly:

“Warning, the music of Marilyn Manson contains messages that will
Kill God,

In your impressionable teenage mind, as a result you could be convinced to
Kill your mom and dad, 
And eventually in an act of hopeless Rock and Roll behavior you will
Kill yourself. 
Please burn your records while there is still hope.”


November 2002 Eminem had the top selling movie, album and single.  Plus his new movie, 8 Mile earned over $51 million during its first weekend, making it the second biggest R-rated opening of all time.  69% of movie viewers at 8-mile were under the age of 25.  The DVD and video version of 8-Mile was released in March, 2003 and already the sales are significant.  Eminem’s CD, “The Eminem Show” sold nearly 300,000 copies in the first day in November, 2002 (Los Angeles Times, 11/11/02; New York Daily News, 11/14-18/02; USA Today, 11/14-17/02). Obviously teenagers are listening and watching Eminem but what message are they hearing or seeing? Again, listen to the lyrics:

  • “F--- you, Mrs. Cheney [and] Tipper Gore!!” (White America)
  • To the US government he says, “I have the money to have you killed” (Square dance)
  • He talks about knifing prostitutes (When the Music Stops)
  • He glamorizes drugs in some of his songs: “Weed mixed with some hard liquor”
  • He encourages blatant violence: “Bullet with your name – sendin’ it your way” and “Put anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can’t stand”
  • He uses explicit sexual content (Soldier; Superman)
  • He threatens violence against a pregnant woman (Drips)
  • He claims to have sold out to the devil and brags about his influence on the youth of America. (Plugged In, 2002)


Offensive Behavior:

WWF’s "Raw is War" (World Wrestling Federation) has over 5 million households viewing weekly making it the highest rated cable television show and it often attracts more viewers than Monday Night Football on broadcast television. WWF’s sequel program "Smackdown" is also watched weekly by 5 million US homes making it also number one on the new UPN network. In addition, the WWF has produced numerous pay-per-view and home video productions which often rank in the top ten nationally.  Other than pornography, WWF is one of the first businesses to make money on the internet by producing and selling live video streaming to home users via their computer. These are often far more explicit and vulgar than even cable TV would allow (Leland, 2000).  Of the more than 1 million viewers, approximately 15% are under the age of 12. (Rosellini, 1999, p. 52).  The WWC, World Championship Wrestling, reports that one fourth of its audience is youth ages two to seventeen (Holmstrom, 1998).


Television news show “Inside Edition” commissioned the Department of Telecommunication at Indiana University to do a one year study of fifty of WWF’s “Raw is War’s shown on the USA Network from February, 1998 through February 1999.  The University found a plethora of objectionable content:

  • 1,658 incidences of grabbing or pointing to a wrestler’s crotch
  • 273 kicks to the groin
  • 158 incidences of profane descriptions of people
  • 157 incidences of “giving the finger”
  • 128 incidences of simulated sexual activity
  • 70 incidences of parading scantily clad women
  • 47 incidences of satanic activity
  • 42 incidences of simulated drug use.
  • 21 incidences of talking about or appearing to urinate
  • Numerous incidences of garbage cans, chairs, tables and brooms used in wrestling
  • Several attempted “embalmings” on live people.


Of the two-hour broadcast, only 36 minutes was actual wrestling.  33% of the average viewers of “Raw” are seventeen years old and under. (Herring, 1999)


Negative Religious Values:

The Center for Media Education reports the following data:

  • “9 out of 10 food ads on Saturday morning TV are for sugary cereals, candy, salty snacks, fatty fast foods and other junk food.
  • Teens see 100,000 alcohol commercials before they reach drinking age.
  • Children and teens are also targeted by interactive advertisers in cyberspace to develop "brand loyalty" as early as possible.” (CME, 2002)


WIRE Magazine reported last fall a “flood of violent & sexually depraved emails” and unsolicited spams which promoted incest, rape, and bestiality.  RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) complaints went from 1 or 2 a week to about 150 (Wire Magazine, 2002).


One time WWF champion and still perennial wrestling bad guy, Stone Cold Steve Austin, touts his “Austin 3:16” t-shirts and memorabilia at events, on television and even in K-mart.  To a Christian, the Bible verse John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish, but have everlasting life”,  is the central focus of their belief.  At one of WWF’s “Main Events,” Austin told the crowd of screaming fans, “Talk about your Psalms and your John 3:16, Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.”



Point 4: Current research seems to show that the media does have a direct effect upon youth attitude and does change their behavior. 



Studies show that youth who are already at risk are attracted to alternative music like heavy metal or rap music from artists like Marilyn Manson or Eminem.  Research has shown a correlation between the angry, depressive, blatantly violent lyrics and the increase in youth suicide and youth violence by those who are experiencing depression, school or personal alienation, suicidal tendencies, drug addiction and/or alcoholic issues and family relationship problems (Roberts & Christenson, 2001).  If a child has aggressive tendencies, the influence of media violence is much greater (Coie & Dodge, 1998; Huesmann & Miller, 1994). We also know that music affects emotions and teenagers most often use music to augment, strengthen or to change their mood (Christenson & Roberts, 1998). 


According to the Youth Violence report of the Surgeon General, “A substantial body of research now indicates that exposure to media violence increases children’s physically and verbally aggressive behavior in the short term (within hours to days of exposure). Media violence also increases aggressive and violent behavior.” (Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 9/14/1999)


Media violence has a direct influence on a child’s successive aggressive behavior (Bensley & Eenwyk, 2001; Wilson, Smith, Potter, Kunkel, Linz, Colvin, & Donnerstein, 2002). Younger children are especially influenced by media violence because they have a more difficult time distinguishing between what is real and what is not.  They can not easily discern motives for violence, and learn simply by imitating what they see in the media. (Bushman, 2001).  They also have a more significant chance of exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior when they are older than children who have not seen violent media (Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000).   According to the Center for Media Education, quote:

  • Children who watch a large amount of violent programs tend to favor using aggression to resolve conflicts.
  • The more violence children watch on TV, the more likely they are to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others, become less sensitive to other's pain and suffering, be more fearful of the world around them, and increase their appetite for violence in entertainment and in real life.
  • According to the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association and others, viewing TV violence can have lifelong harmful effects on children's health.
  • Children who watch a lot of TV have a greater risk of obesity, increased alcohol and drug use, and earlier involvement in sexual activity.
  • Children who watch 4 or more hours of TV per day spend less time on school work, have poorer reading skills, play less well with friends, and have fewer hobbies than children who watch less TV.” (CME, 2002)


According to the NIMF website, six prominent medical groups (American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association) warn of these effects of media violence on children:

·       “Children will increase anti-social and aggressive behavior.

·       Children may become less sensitive to violence and those who suffer from violence.

·       Children may view the world as violent and mean, becoming more fearful of being a victim of violence.

·       Children will desire to see more violence in entertainment and real life.

·       Children will view violence as an acceptable way to settle conflicts” (Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000)


Aggressive behavior especially increases in youth who play violent video games (Anderson & Bushman, 2001, p.353).  Research by the National Institute for Media and the Family suggests that children who watched more television and played video games more often were more likely to exhibit hostile attributional biases (Buchanan, 2002).


Offensive Behavior:

Studies show that teens have a more positive mind-set about drinking and their own likelihood to drink after viewing alcohol advertisements (Austin, 1994; Grube, 1994). According to the Center for Media Education:

  • “Most children younger than 6 do not understand that the purpose of advertising is to sell a product.” (CME, 2002)
  • “Children who watch 4 or more hours of TV a day are more likely to believe advertising claims than children who watch TV less often.” (CME, 2002)


Each year, US children view 2,000+ beer and wine commercials. In 1999 alone, 52% of 8th graders and 80% of high school seniors reported consuming alcohol, with 31% of seniors reporting 5 or more drinks in a row at least once during the prior 2 weeks (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1995, 2001).  Advertisers know that they can influence youth through media placement.  According to the FTC, alcohol corporations placed their products in 233 motion pictures and in at least one episode of 181 different television series from 1997-98. Eight of the 15 most popular television shows with teenagers had alcohol product placements. They also have occurred in PG and PG 13 movies where the primary audience is teens and children (Federal Trade Commission 1999).


Negative Religious Values:

The media has been shown to influence the moral values and permissive attitudes about sex.  Specifically a study was done on MTV’s influence upon college age youth.  The study found that the ones who watched MTV regularly, their attitudes toward premarital sex changed dramatically. They became more accepting of it as compared to those who did not watch MTV (Calfin, Carroll, & Schmidt, 1993). In a similar study, 7th and 9th grade youth were found to be more likely to approve of sex before marriage after watching less than an hour of MTV (Greeson & Williams, 1986). 


Also, the media has been shown to affect how youth see their physical bodies.  The watching of soap operas, movies, music videos (Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996) and commercials (Hargreaves, 2002) and the viewing of teen magazines (Hofschire & Greenberg, 2002) have all been associated with an adolescent’s level of physical dissatisfaction and their desire to lose weight.  Identification with TV stars (girls & boys), female models (girls) and male athletes (boys) also contributed toward body dissatisfaction by teenagers.  These youth felt less confident, angrier and more disgruntled with their weight and physical appearance.  Children as young as 10 years old stated they were not happy with their bodies after watching one Britney Spears video and a segment  from an episode of “Friends”(Mundell, 2002).  Media consumption by college undergrads was also found to influence their desire for thinness among men and body dissatisfaction among women (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). 



Point 5: Not everyone agrees with the current research findings.


In an effort to show both sides of this topic, I searched journals looking for current research against media influence.  I could not find any.  So, I e-mailed Dr. David Walsh of the National Institute for Media and the Family (Minneapolis, MN) to ask if there was any known research which proved that the media did not influence youth.  His response was, “There is no research showing that media has no effects on children.”   While this is accurate, there have been some articles which have disagreed with some of the findings because of procedural issues or questionable evidence.  Most notably is Professor Jonathan Freedman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto.  In 2002, he wrote a 481 page scientific review entitled, “Media Violence and Its Effect on Media Aggression.” As I was not able to find any actual “journal articles” by him on the subject, I also e-mailed him requesting direction.  He referred me solely to the scientific review.  I should mention that this book and his research were funded by the Motion Pictures Association.


Freedman claims that over the past 15 years he has analyzed every study on media violence published in English and in turn has concluded that “the results do not support the hypothesis that exposure to media violence causes aggression or criminal behavior in people.” (Easton, 2000)  He further claims that people have “distorted” the scientific data.   He claims that there is no “causal” effect, rather, people with “aggressive personalities simply prefer violent shows.”(Easton, 2000)  Pulitzer prize winner and science author Richard Rhodes who wrote the book, “Why They Kill,” also claims that there is no significant link between violent media and violence in society (ABC, 2000). Finally, a 1999 editorial written in a British Medical Journal also suggested that “the experts are divided on the subject.” (Wright, 2003)  Freedman and Rhodes are correct in that there is no “definitive” research which makes the case totally conclusive.  However, it is important to note that there have been over 1000 research studies, all suggesting a minimal link between violent media and violence in society and there is currently no research disproving this hypothesis. 



Point 6: The brain is manipulated by the media.


As any high school biology teacher will tell you, our brain contains billions of neurons.  Everything we do, see, hear, or experience arouses a link between these neurons.  Recurring stimulus causes these links to become even stronger.  That means if the stimulus is repetitive, the neuron connection becomes more prominent in the brain. 


Our brains contain three keys areas: the cognitive, the psychological, and the emotional.  While the cognitive is the largest area, it is the emotional section which seems to have the greatest influence on our behavior. Because of emotional jolts (sex, violence, fear, humor or ‘a desire to belong’) the emotional section of our brain reacts.  It is this area which “grabs our attention, determines significant segments our memory, motivates our actions, determines our attitude and drives our behavior.”(NIMF, 1999) The media plays upon the emotional jolts and often uses several simultaneously in order to arouse a significant and lasting emotional response.


Lt. Col. D. Grossman in “On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” says the US Army has determined:

·       “That the more realistic the video game is helps blur the difference between fantasy and reality;

·       Shooting at a simple target did not encourage real battle killing;

·       Shooting at “realistic” targets desensitized soldiers and made killing a reflex” (Leo,1999)


Recent research suggests that the final stage of the frontal lobe development which determines discernment versus response/reflex mentality among teenagers does not begin its final stage of development until around 5th grade and does not complete its development until about 17 years old.  Research further suggests that brain cells, once thought to not regenerate, actually do develop in areas of repetition (Walsh, 2003).  This suggests that repetitive stimulus during this critical stage of development might have a significant influence upon a person’s rational discernment capability and could be the reason for the desensitization of violence among our youth.  It would explain why seemingly normal youth have no despair in killing people at a school.  It would explain why the Columbine boys look forward to actually “playing doom for real.”  As this is new research, there is currently no direct correlation between frontal lobe development and media’s influence.



Point 7: My “sponge theory:”
One thing usually does not make our behavior change.


If I had a new sponge and chose to clean up a coffee spill, a juice spill, a water spill and a milk spill, when the sponge was rung out, the combination would be an unpleasant mess.  If I left the sponge that way, eventually it would begin to smell, mildew and subsequently grow mold. However, if the sponge simply soaked-up four piles of water, it would not smell and the growth of mildew or mold would be less likely.  In the same way our brains “soak-up” considerable amounts of data from a variety of sources.  Throughout a lifetime, we are influenced by many factors which contribute toward our values, beliefs and moral judgments – and eventually contribute toward our behavior.  People are influenced by multiple things in life including relationships, family, parents, friends, experiences, sexuality, maturity, intellect, education, religious beliefs and convictions.  Each of these becomes another item “soaking” in our sponge.  No one item fills the sponge; instead they all become pooled together within the sponge.


In the same way, the causes of the violent or immoral behavior described at the beginning of this review can not simply be attributed to a linear deduction. For many, their approach to the media and behavior is that listening to Eminem or Marilyn Manson will make a person hate God, or viewing an R-rated movie will cause a person to have sex before marriage, or playing Grand Theft Auto will suddenly make a person a violent murderer.  This is not true.  It is important that we understand that the media on its own does not cause a person to become any of these things.  They are all items “soaked up” which become combined with our other influences in our life. 


Many factors in the portrayal of media violence contribute to its affect on children and teens. (Comstock, 1994, Huesmann, 2001). 


“Many studies indicate that a single factor or a single defining situation does not cause child and adolescent antisocial behavior. Rather, multiple factors contribute to and shape antisocial behavior over the course of development. Some factors relate to characteristics within the child, but many others relate to factors within the social environment (e.g., family, peers, schools, neighborhood, and community contexts) that enable, shape, and maintain aggression, antisocial behavior, and related behavior problems.” (CDCP, 2000)


In my experience as a high school principal, teacher, Director of Religious Education and “yuthguy,” I believe teenagers are influenced predominately by the media during a critical time in their mental development.  This is further complicated by the fact that most youth are home alone often and they lack parental influence.  Their mentoring is done via the media through video games, movies, the internet and music.  According to the book “How Well Do You Know Your Children,” 63% have both parents working and three fourths are “latchkey kids” where a parent is not home when they arrive from school. According to their research, teenagers average 3-1/2 hours alone each day (Kantrowitz & Wingert, p. 39-39).


The problem occurs when we consider that during the teenage years, the media becomes a youth’s “predominant” influence.  It causes repetitive messages to be “soaked-up” into a person’s brain – messages which when pooled together can significantly affect a person’s overall “sponge.”  Eventually, the media’s reoccurring message could stimulate the emotional section of the brain and could negatively change a person’s behavior causing youth to compromise or totally ignore their social and spiritual upbringing.  While the media is not the sole determiner of the sponge, it can significantly compromise it.  But what if we could adjust our media consumption to be more in line with our morals, beliefs and values?  What if that portion of a person’s sponge was clearer and not muddied with the corrupt messages of the media?  Obviously, the impact of adolescence would not be easier, but the conflicting messages during adolescence would be less of an issue.  The media’s messages for violent retribution, ungodly sexual behavior and material worldliness would no longer be the preferred model, but instead family based values and religious morals could once again take precedence. 



  • The media is one influence in the behavioral development of a youth.
  • The graphic violence, overt sexuality, morally mixed and negative messages of the media have polluted the established truths a youth may have learned at school, home and/or church.
  • In the teen years, the media replaces and or takes on a more significant influence upon youth than at any other time in their lives.
  • Stronger research is necessary to make the correlation between media and its influence on youth; however, there seems to be enough research to justify a concern and a preventative approach to the issues of media influence.
  • The media messages and portrayals do have a lasting negative effect upon a youth’s behavior and judgment.
  • Proper media discernment and evaluation processes must be engrained into the youth’s minds to allow them to better cope with the graphic violence, overt sexuality, morally mixed and negative messages.
  • Significant reductions in the negative influences of the media are necessary.


* * * * * * *


“With God, All things are Possible!”







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Originally written April 10, 2003; updated November 30, 2007

Copyright Glen Dawursk, Jr.




Mr. Glen Dawursk, Jr. is the Assistant Principal for BOSCTE:
Barack Obama School for Career and Technical Education,
a K-12th grade Milwaukee Public School (formally Custer HS) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA


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