Children can imitate at an early age
Children as young as 14 months can model behaviors. A study by the Kaiser Foundation (2003) found that almost half of parents with children between ages four and six say their children have imitated aggressive behavior on television. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than eight “cannot uniformly discriminate between real life and fantasy/entertainment” and can “quickly learn that violence is an acceptable solution to resolving complex problems, particularly if the aggressor is a hero.”
The three-nation study, Centerwall (1989 & 1992), on the introduction of television sets
It is reported that violence in the United States began to increase dramatically in 1965. This was about when the first generation of children raised on TV began to reach the age at which most violent crimes are committed. The Centerwall (1989 & 1992) research indicated that similar effects were found in Canada and South Africa about 15 years after television was introduced in those countries.
Strength of the relationship between media violence and aggression in children
According to Bushman and Anderson (2001) the relationship between violent media and aggression is stronger than passive smoking and lung cancer, nicotine patch and smoking cessation, calcium intake and bone mass, and homework and academic achievement! Like smoking, the more frequent and enduring the exposure to violence, the more likely that it’s cumulative effects will worsen.
Television as babysitter
Consider the following if you needed a babysitter for your four-year-old. Your friend says she has the perfect person, adding, “I know he’s a complete stranger, but you’ll love him. He’ll teach your child to solve problems with violent and destructive behavior; he’ll introduce all kinds of foul words your child has never heard before; he’ll teach your child that parents are buffoons who should be disrespected; and, he’ll entertain and get up close and personal with attractive women in the most explicit way.”
Would you want this person as your four-year-old’s babysitter? That’s the kind of person we ‘bring into our home’ if we allow unsupervised television viewing.
Video games and violence
Bushman and Anderson (2001) reported that children and young people that play violent video games, even for short periods, are more likely to behave aggressively in their interactions with others. They found that both aggressive and non-aggressive children are negatively affected by playing.
René Weber, Assistant Professor of Communication and Telecommunication at Michigan State University and his colleagues, reported in October 2005, that violent “video games frequently have been criticized for enhancing aggressive reactions such as aggressive cognitions, aggressive affects or aggressive behavior. On a neurobiological level we have shown the link exists.” This was established by measuring brain activity of the participants in the study as they used a mature-rated first-person shooting game where acts of extreme violence were rewarded.
Song lyrics and violence
One recent study (Anderson, et al., 2003) indicated that there was a relationship between violent song lyrics and increased aggressive thoughts and feelings of hostility. Humorous violent songs also increased aggression levels, relative to humorous non-violent songs, according to the study’s lead researcher.
How fear can affect the way people think
According to Dr. Bruce Perry, children in a state of fear retrieve information from the world differently than children who feel calm. When we are calm we use higher, more complex parts of our brain to act on information we encounter. When fearful, we use the lower, more primitive parts of our brain. As the perceived threat level increases, we become less thoughtful and more reactive in our responses.
Considering that children in the United States will have viewed 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he/she is 18, it is not a stretch of the imagination to consider that violent media has an effect in shaping, to some degree, a child’s thinking patterns. Dr. Bruce Perry* states, “When children experience repetitive activation of the stress response systems . . . [they are] ill-prepared to learn from social, emotional, and other life experiences.”
Possible ways that television violence misleads children
Some children might identify with the aggressor. Since aggressors are usually male and victims tend to be female, it has been noted that boys are more likely to respond with aggression while females are more likely to respond with fear.
Media violence is more likely to have an affect on those who experience violence in their own lives, seeing it as realistic.
Younger children will also tend to interpret what they see as realistic because of their reduced ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Some children may fantasize about being a character on a violent television show or movie and imitate that character’s actions and repertoire of behavior.
What parents can do
Know the shows your children watch; do not use TV as a babysitter and limit viewing to 1-2 quality hours a day; set limits for older children (e.g., no TV or video games before school or before homework is done--children readily adapt to reasonable and consistent rules); turn off TV during mealtimes and keep TV/video player out of children’s room; only turn on TV if there is something specific you have selected to watch; be an active viewer (make connections with your child during the viewing time); be careful about what children watch before bedtime so images do not intrude in sleep; be clear with your children about your guidelines for appropriate movie viewing and review movie choices in advance; and, set a good example by limiting your own TV viewing. Read a book with your children!
Other contributors to violence in children
Dr. Bruce Perry* states: “A child is most likely to reach her full potential if she experiences consistent, predictable, enriched, and stimulating interactions in a context of attentive and nurturing relationships.” The reverse would be true as well. A family that displays violence and has positive attitudes toward violence will contribute to the development of that quality in their children. Verbal and physical abuse that is modeled by parents has a greater impact on children’s development than what they view on television.