There are reasons for concern about the impact of television violence. Social scientists have studied and discussed this issue for almost 40 years. During this period, hundreds of studies and numerous national reviews and reports have confirmed the potential harmful effects of televised violence. The major reviews and interpretations of research have included the Surgeon General's study in 1972, the NIMH report in 1982, and the American Psychological Association reports in 1992 and 1993. Each of these reports confirms the need to address the issue of TV violence but questions remain about the most efficient and effective process.
I believe the most useful approach to be a multilevel, systemic change in the way American society is willing to deal with media violence. The changes must take place at the home, school, and industry levels. These changes must include educational programs -- for both parents and children -- that are designed to enhance understanding of television's influence on children and the role that parents can play in moderating that influence. Also, there must be changes in the television industry, both voluntary and regulatory, that will reduce the incidence of violence in programming and increase the positive influence of television.
All of these changes are do-able. All of these changes are worthwhile. Many of these changes are in process, and many can be expedited with community and industry support. The combined influence of voluntary changes in the ratings or parental advisories offered by industry and FCC leadership in implementing the Children's Television Act of 1990 should result in fewer violent programs and greater numbers of educational and entertaining programs.
Industry leadership in the past resulted in major changes in children's television. The CBS initiatives in the mid 1970's, following the Surgeon General's alarm about TV violence, led to the development of five cartoon series that shared a common goal -- educating, while entertaining, young viewers. Probably the most famous series in this set of five was Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, which was based on the life of Bill Cosby. However, other series in the collection, such as the USA of Archie, the Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, and ISIS, all made important contributions to children's intellectual and emotional development. Reviewed in the CBS report Learning While They Laugh (Columbia Broadcasting System, 1977), the research demonstrated that these were very effective educational programs that captured the imagination and provided entertainment for young viewers.
We have achieved success in the past when we have combined the creative talents of producers and broadcasters in response to the challenge of public concern about children's television. Now is the time to reinvigorate that creative partnership to enhance the intellectual and emotional development of our youngest citizens. We have demonstrated that children can learn from television and we have demonstrated that they can "learn while they laugh." All we need is the firm resolve to develop new approaches to strengthen the positive role of television in our children's lives.