With the rise of technology, social media and new devices has come a pressing phenomenon concerning the mass media and exposure to violence, especially for children, and its negative effects. Understandably and inevitably so, children are exposed to technology at all ages and as a result of the media content that can be seen through these channels and devices, it is of great discussion whether or not exposure to violence in the media has a lifelong effect on children, their aggression, their temperament, etc. Research among many psychologists and sociologists suggest that early exposure to violence through the media in television, programming, movies video games and other forms can predict aggression in adulthood. Conversely, it is argued that this is an example of correlation, but not causation, as many children view violent media and do not immediately become abusive and aggressive adults. The issue of whether or not exposure to violence is directly linked to aggressive behavior in children is and will continue to be a hot topic, but the evidence that the two are positively linked is quite strong.
Research has shown these positive links, but curbing the negative effects of such media is best done through observation and teaching other methods of conflict resolution rather than attempting to restrict all media in hopes of never encountering violent content. A study from the American Psychological Association on children and violence in the media addresses the fact that although media is educational and entertaining, it can also damage the psyche of children on into adulthood. Research by Huesmann et al. (2003) find that early childhood exposure to television violence was an accurate predictor of aggressive behavior in both males and females in adulthood, creating an interesting point of view in regard to sex and gender as it relates to such behavior.
In a three-year study in 1977, Huesmann and his colleagues observed nearly 600 children between 5 to 10 years old from five countries and examined data on their violence viewing on television, identifying with aggressive characters, judging the difference between reality and a pretend world, as well as parents’ own aggressiveness, attitudes and practice. While a positive relationship was found between the two, especially as aggressive children watch more aggressive programming, the effect of such was not very significant. It is also worth noting that the study found that men were more likely to engage in serious physical aggression than women, which likely aligns with standards and expectations of masculinity. Women were more likely to engage in indirect aggression, including exclusion, breaking confidences, spreading rumors, slandering a person’s name and reputation, etc., especially in relations to a same-sex friendship (Richardson & Green, 2006, p. 2492).
Gory games like Call of Duty and HALO, violent television and movies and the like create risk factors for children becoming aggressive adults who are prone to resort to violent methods especially in times of conflict as a method of resolution. There is no single risk factor that will make anyone, child or adult, into a violent person, but the amount of these risk factors and their effects on kids make for a greater likelihood of behaving aggressively. In the unfortunate age of school shootings and widespread violence, the conversation has again begun to address the role of violent media as an influence in behavior that escalates as a result of children thinking it is them versus the world. Researchers offer that the black-and-white view of the “good guy” and “bad guy” in the world of media does not leave room for compromise or seeing the other side. According to Michelle Garrison, investigator at a child development institute in Seattle, Wash., when a child sees himself as a “bad guy,” they can feel irredeemable and think that they cannot change (Daly et al., 2009). However, crediting violent media and devices with violence, particularly in explosive widespread ways, creates a slippery slope of its own that makes media out to be the scapegoat of violence even as forms of entertainment. It is impossible to keep children in a violence-free environment, but prolonged exposure poses enough of a risk factor for adults in all positions and professions to recognize the need to temper exposure to violent media.
The body of academic research that supports limiting children’s exposure to media violence dates back to the 1970s and while it presents accurate information that still stands, there is the need for more psychological research into the processes that code scripts, schemas and beliefs about using violence as a method of conflict resolution and understanding that its depiction in media is meant to exaggerate and entertain. The younger they are, the more likely they are to imitate the violence on the screen particularly if it is in the pursuit of overcoming the “bad guy.” Instead of attempting to keep all media away from children’s eyes, take the approach of choosing appropriate television, movies and games by checking content, making use of parental controls and curbing one’s own viewing of violent and appropriate programming. It is also worth checking one’s own propensity toward aggression and work toward positive methods of conflict resolution that do not include resorting to violent measures. Enforcing balance, observing ratings, keeping some forms of media out of the bedroom, and watching for warning signs of increased aggression to find red flags will go further in reducing the effects of violent media in young and developing minds. It is the onus on the parent to know the maturity levels of their children and understanding how what they enjoy most can affect them.
- Daly, L. A., & Perez, L. M. (2009). Exposure to Media Violence and Other Correlates of Aggressive Behavior in Preschool Children. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 11(2), n2.
- Huesmann, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C., & Eron, L. D. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221.
- Richardson, D. S., & Green, L. R. (2006). Direct and Indirect Aggression: Relationships as Social Context. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.