The Blame Game: Youth and Media Violence

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

Each addition to a rapidly growing list of cases of violence in American schools, which now includes a Jan. 15 school shooting at a New York City high school, intensifies the discussion about the potential impact that media violence, and media technology such as the Internet and video games, have on teens. But Gallup poll data suggest that blaming the media for teen crime and violence is not a new tendency. While the public is quick to call for the regulation of violent material at the source, it also believes that the responsibility for teen exposure to violent media rests a little closer to home.

When a 1999 Gallup poll* asked adults whether the depiction of violence in popular entertainment (such as TV, in the movies, music, and video games) was one of the major causes of violence among young people, a majority (62%) said that it was. A separate poll from that year** found that 74% of Americans thought some of the blame for teen- age crime could be placed on television and movie violence. Thirty-one percent (31%), thought TV and movie violence deserved "a great deal" of the blame.

A Gallup poll from 1954^ found remarkably similar results. In that survey, 70% of American adults thought blame for teen-age crime could be placed on "mystery and crime programs on TV and radio" -- 24% assigned the programs "a great deal" of blame, with another 44% assigning "some" blame. The results were similar for comic books, which were just gaining mainstream popularity in the 1950s. Again, 70% said the reading of comic books could be blamed for teen-age crime, with 26% assigning "a great deal" of blame.

A 1999 Gallup study^^ also found support for the idea that responsibility for preventing teen-agers from exposure to violent entertainment rests in the hands of the entertainment industry. A strong majority (83%) believed there should be restrictions on the sales of violent entertainment materials; only 16% said it is sufficient to provide information about the material's content. Additionally, more than half of Americans also thought "the federal government should do more to regulate the violence" on the Internet (65%), in video games (58%) and on TV (56%). Nearly half thought it should do more to regulate violence in movies (49%) and in popular music (48%).

The Product Or the User?

Despite the mass media's almost omnipresent profile in American culture, a teen-ager's choice to use media entertainment products remains just that -- a choice. Evidence suggests that the American public thinks a parent is primarily responsible for those choices in the home. A 1995 Gallup poll^^^ asked Americans who they felt was mostly to blame when young people are "exposed to violence and sex in the movies, on television, and in music." Forty-eight percent (48%) said they blame the parents for allowing teen-agers to view violent media, while 31% cited the entertainment industry, and 18% believed both are equally to blame. As for who is to blame for allowing children under 12 to make poor media choices, 56% said it's the parents, 20% said the entertainment industry and 20% said both or neither are at fault.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,025 national adults, aged 18+, conducted May 7-May 9, 1999. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,014 national adults, aged 18+, conducted April 30-May 2, 1999. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

^Results are based on in-person interviews with 1,531 national adults, aged 18+, conducted October 13, 1954. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±2.6 percentage points.

^^Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,022 national adults, aged 18+, conducted June 11-June 13, 1999. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

^^^Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18+, conducted June 5- June 6, 1995. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.


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