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Are Cartoons Making our Children Violent?

Updated on September 13, 2014

Violent Cartoon


Violence in Cartoons

During a two hour viewing of cartoons and commercials aimed at children, several types of violence were indentified. Emotional and physical violence was displayed at varying intervals throughout all programming by male characters that were labeled as “bad” or “evil”. Bullying was the theme in one show, with the victim showing no recognition or resolution of the abuse. Homicide was displayed, but not realistically as the character came back to life later in the viewing. The majority of the characters were male and represented as “good” with a few female characters also behaving positively. Ethnicity was not disclosed as the cartoon characters took various forms of sea creatures and animals.

Promise the Impossible - Toy Commercials

Toys promoted during commercials were aimed at both male and female school age children. Toys for girls were mostly dolls or art items. Commercials for boy toys ranged between cars, racing sets, action figures, and play guns. The same commercial for a restaurant with children’s activities played six times during the two hour viewing. According to Stanhope and Lancaster (2012) television shows everything a child could want, but the hope of buying the products is unrealistic for many Americans (p. 831). Stanhope and Lancaster (2012) state “such polarization between what is available and what is possible provide fertile ground for the development of abusive patterns” (p. 831).

Child Watching Violence

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How Media Violence Influences the Community

The media often shows the world as a violent place which can affect the community. Individuals may feel unconcerned about violence and no longer be charged to act against it in the community (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2012, p. 831). Other community members may become so afraid that they isolate themselves and decline to help others (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2012, p. 831).

Viewing violent acts may influence social and community violence. Burke (2010) mentions that viewing violent programs activated areas in the brain associated with negative effect. While children’s heavy exposure to violent media generally co-occurs with low parental monitoring and heavy overall viewing, population studies of isolated cultures after the introduction of media show an initial increase in youth aggression (Burke, 2010).

South Park

Is the Media Promoting Violence?

Gentile, Coyne, and Walsh (2011) describe the General Aggression Model (GAM) which suggests that repeated episodes of viewing media violence may result in development, over learning, and reinforcement of aggression-related behaviors. The authors explain the knowledge structures include vigilance for enemies, aggressive action towards others, expectations that others will behave aggressively, positive attitudes towards the use of violence, and the belief that aggressive solutions are effective and appropriate (Gentile et al., 2011). Girls were found to use indirect, social, and relational aggression such as bullying as opposed to physical forms (Gentile et al., 2011). Acts of bullying are an antecedent for perpetration of domestic violence and can lead to self harm (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2012, p. 831).

In analysis of the viewing and literature review, it is interesting to find varying degrees of belief. Stanhope and Lancaster (2012) cite that little direct correlation between television viewing and interpersonal violence exist (p. 831). It seems possible that the media does impact abusive behaviors. Clearly, gaps in research are present and must continue to be evaluated. “Since nurses are in key positions to detect and intervene in community and family violence, they need to understand how community level influences affect all types of violence” (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2012, p. 830).

Media Violence



Burke, M. G. (2010). The impact of screen media on children. Psychiatric Times, 27(10), 40-46.

Gentile, D., Coyne, S., & Walsh, D. (2011). Media violence, physical aggression, and relational aggression in school age children: a short-term longitudinal study. Aggressive Behavior, 37(2), 193-206. doi:10.1002/ab.20380

Stanhope, M. & Lancaster, J. (2012). Public health nursing population-centered health care in the community. (8th ed.). Maryland Heights, MO: Elsevier.


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