Managing Exposure to Violent Media

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

kids and media violence exposure

Not everything they watch contains sunshine and giggles. Credit: Getty Images

Ask your kids to tell you about a violent scene in a TV show or a movie. Ask them why they remember it and what they felt like when they saw it. See if they can figure out what about the scene made it stick in their head. What did they say to themselves when they saw it? Were they scared? Did they have to remind themselves it was fictional?

Were the scenes important to the show or movie's plot? If not, why do your kids think the producers and directors included the scene?

Point out that violence is often used to "sell" something, since gory images get people's attention. Remind your kids that TV shows have their own popularity contests. Those with the biggest audiences make the most money because they have the most advertisers paying top dollar to reach the viewers. Two surefire ways to get big audiences are by showing scenes with lots of sex and/or violence. Ask your kids to come up with some examples of shows they like or movies they enjoyed that had a sex scene or violent episode that wasn't necessary to tell the story.

Arm yourself with the facts about the impact of media violence. The studies don't lie. Lots of violence affects kids' behavior. Period. When kids marinate in media steeped in acts of aggression, it can increase antisocial activity and bullying and decrease empathy for victims of violence. The more aggressive behavior kids see, the more it becomes an acceptable way to settle conflicts. Movies with scary images, intense peril, loud noises, and -- above all -- blood and gore, create all sorts of disturbances, including increased anxiety, sleep disruption, and nightmares. And those first-person-shooter video games? The intimacy of the mayhem and murder pack such a huge emotional punch that they alter brain chemistry.

  • Nearly two out of three TV programs contain violence, averaging six violent acts per hour.
  • The average child who watches two hours of cartoons per day may see more than 10,000 violent acts a year.
  • There are more than twice as many violent incidents in children's programming than in other types of programming.
  • Teens who watch more than one hour of television per day are four times more likely than other teens to commit aggressive acts in adulthood.
  • In a study of third and fourth graders, reducing television and video game consumption to less than one hour per day decreased verbal aggression by 50% and physical aggression by 40%.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, violence is a leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults -- more prevalent than disease, cancer, or congenital disorders.
  • By the time kids enter middle school, they will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 more acts of violence on broadcast television alone.
  • Younger kids are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of media violence -- especially those under 7 who can't easily distinguish between fantasy and reality.
  • The younger kids are when they see a violent or scary movie or TV show, the longer-lasting the effects -- particularly in nightmares and increased anxiety.
Common Sense Says:

Explain consequences.
What parent hasn't heard "but there's no blood" as the justification for seeing a movie or playing a video game? Explain the true physical consequences of violence. Point out how unrealistic it is for people to get away with the kind of mayhem modeled in media. Explain how games, in particular, actually encourage and reward violent acts (how else can you win?).
Teach conflict resolution. Kids know that clocking someone on the head isn't the way to solve a disagreement, but verbal cruelty is also violent. Teach kids how to disengage, use their words, and stand up for themselves without throwing a punch.
Don't let kids immerse themselves in violent content. Keep an eye on the clock. The more time spent with violent content, the greater its impact and influence.

Be age appropriate:

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 OK, 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-old tweens, 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 (and with HDTV, they'll really see things!). Point out that the violence portrayed is hurtful and causes suffering. And limit time exposure to violence, especially in video games.
No M-rated games for kids younger than 16 or 17. Sure, the kid down the street has the latest cop-killer game. But these games are ultra-violent and often sexually violent. That's not good for developing brains and social development.

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

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