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Kid See, Adult Do

March 11, 2003

Newly released research on TV violence and its lasting effects on viewers suggests courting couples might want to inquire about their prospective spouse's childhood program proclivities. Those people -- men and women--who watched the most violent TV shows as youngsters turned out to be the most violence-prone, even 15 years later, according to the University of Michigan study.

This study, unusual in that it followed people for many years, confirms what any playground monitor has long suspected: Children ape what they see. The more they see it, the more they ape it, be it Mr. Rogers or Dirty Harry. Human societies, being human, do contain inherent hypocrisies -- sinning preachers, unfaithful marriage vow-takers, movie directors professing peace while promoting gory tales, parents rudely criticizing children for rudeness. Judging by TV ratings and box office sales, entertainment audiences also contain many who don't always patronize what they say they prefer.

Most disturbing is the study's evidence that viewing violence as entertainment at an impressionable young age inseminates an acceptance of or proclivity toward violence years later. And those kids were watching "Starsky and Hutch" and "The Six Million Dollar Man"! Just imagine the later effects of today's violent special effects.

Sesame Street producers quickly realized young viewers absorb more if adults watch with them, endorsing and discussing the lessons. This suggests that parents might mute the impact of ubiquitous violent fare by conscientious discussions about their values, violence and its rarely depicted consequences.

Yes, exposing kids to more violence today produces better "Cops" episodes in 2018. But is that what we really want this fantastic medium to do, entertain us to death?

A coincidental new study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine shows that 10 minutes of hugging and handholding between romantic partners noticeably reduces stress, heart rates and blood pressure, possibly lengthening lives over time.

Humans, however, remain drawn to conflict, even fake conflict like pro wrestling or blind dates. Pit a shoot-'em-up show with gas-enhanced explosions and flying body parts against an exhibition of human hugging, chances are the blissful show won't make it to syndication, even if titled "Naked Hands, Unwed Huggers." But here's an idea: Maybe if we beat up violence lovers enough, you know, give 'em a good thrashing they won't forget, we could convince them to watch more peaceful programming.

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