Few debates are longer running than whether excessive television viewing by children causes violent behavior. The debate was recharged recently with a Columbia University study that found a statistical connection between hours spent in front of the TV and later criminal acts.
Since the study stretched over 17 years, it involved not only children, but adolescents and young adults. The adults, when exposed to more than an hour of TV a day, showed the same increased inclination toward violence that other researchers have often found in younger, supposedly more impressionable subjects.
So, does this latest study seal the case against TV violence?
Not really. It may be yet another reason for thinking hard about viewing habits, of adults as well as children. Without a doubt, what's learned on TV can feed into thinking and acting. But some questions remain unanswered.
If TV really breeds violence, why aren't more people violent? Or rather, what helps most people not resort to violence after years of TV-watching?
The study had no data on what was being watched, only on the hours watched. A better study would look at the impact of specific content, and how the quality and quantity of violent content has changed. With cable and satellite TV, viewers today can watch more hours of trash than ever or more hours of useful programming.
Viewers do not have to be passive receptacles of whatever flashes on the TV screen. Perhaps a more educated public is exercising more discretion, especially when it has more choices. With more warnings about violent content being given, viewers have more control over what to watch.
If anything, this study is a reminder that TV violence does have some effect, and that efforts to prevent those effects are worth pursuing. What's often forgotten is that the person in front of the TV is ultimately more powerful than what's on TV.