TV Violence and Your Kids

Filed under: Media, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

TV violence kids

The more violent or aggressive behavior kids see, the more normal it becomes. Credit: Getty Images

Every family has a different definition of what constitutes violence. Is an anvil falling on the Road Runner's head violence? How about dangerous reality TV challenges? At the end of the day, it all matters. Because even if kids know that something is make-believe, their brains still process the information as if it were real. The more kids take in, the more it affects them. And it seems that the yuck factor keeps increasing on TV shows. Finding age-appropriate shows, limiting the amount of TV violence kids are exposed to, and talking to your kids when they've viewed something violent can lessen the impact.

Why it matters

It makes sense (and studies prove) that the more violent or aggressive behavior kids see, the more normal it becomes. With all the gore that fills the TV screen, violence can become an acceptable way to settle conflicts. Studies show that repeated exposure can lead to harmful acts and bullying. And they also show that kids become less empathetic to victims of violence. Kids younger than 7 are particularly vulnerable, since they don't easily distinguish fantasy from reality. They're also in the process of separating from their parents; that budding independence can bring normal insecurities and anxieties. When a child sees another child harmed on television, the impact is huge psychologically. So it's not surprising that the younger kids are, the longer-lasting the effects of TV violence can be, including nightmares and increased worry that the world is a dangerous place.

The facts

  • 30 years of research and more than 1000 studies confirm that violent television creates fear and anxiety in young children
  • Repeated exposure can impact kids' readiness for school
  • Televised violence increases feelings of hostility and can decrease empathy for human suffering
  • By the time our kids reach middle school, they've seen more than 8,000 televised murders. By age 18, that number escalates to 40,000 (and over 200,000 total violent acts)
  • "CSI," "24," and "Law & Order: SVU" are regularly watched by elementary school kids
  • The nightly news is among the most violent TV that kids watch
  • Violent TV promos are completely unregulated.

Know what kids can handle at each age.

  • Kids ages 2-4 often see cartoon violence. But keep them away from anything that shows physical aggression as a means of conflict resolution, because they'll imitate what they see.
  • For 5- to 7-year-olds, cartoon rough-and-tumble, slapstick, and fantasy violence are okay, but violence that would reasonably result in death or serious injury is too scary.
  • 8- to 10-year-olds can handle action-hero sword fighting or gunplay as long as there's no gore. Violence should have consequences.
  • For 11- to 12-year-olds, historical action is OK, including battles, fantasy clashes, and duels. But close-ups of gore or graphic violence (alone or combined with sexual situations) aren't recommended.
  • Kids ages 13-17 can and will see shoot-'em-ups, blow-'em-ups, high-tech violence, accidents with disfigurement or death, anger, and gang fighting. Point out that the violence portrayed on screen hurts and causes suffering. And limit exposure time -- the studies don't lie. Ultra-violent behavior, often combined with sexual images, isn't good for developing teen brains.
Check out shows before your kids do. Don't assume that everything broadcast during daylight or early evening hours is OK. Read reviews, check out content, and pre-screen shows.

Get the TV out of the bedroom. It will cut down on the hours watched, and you'll have a better handle on what your kids are watching.

Talk to your young kids about the cartoon violence they see. Tell them it isn't realistic and that it's no way to solve problems.

Manage TV time with digital video recorders (DVRs). If you have one, fill it with nonviolent, age-appropriate shows that kids can watch on demand.

Watch with them. Talk to your kids about what they're seeing. With younger kids, ask them whether there's a better way to solve problems. With older kids, see whether you can start a discussion about violence in their schools or communities to see where their heads are. Then put in your two cents.

Be a role model. Don't watch violent shows when your kids are around. Sure, we all grew up with violent television. And, yes, we came out OK. But we didn't live in our kids' culture where the violence is so much gorier and the time they spend with violent media dwarfs anything we grew up with. Violence is everywhere now -- on TV shows, in movies, in video games, and on the Internet.

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Get more information for parents on media and technology by checking out Common Sense Media.


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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.