Risky Child Behaviors

Assessing the Negative Effects of Violent Media on Children



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Ten-thousand fewer homicides each year in the U.S., 70,000 fewer rapes, and 70,000 fewer injurious assaults: this could be the difference if parents take initiative to help their children decide what is inappropriate media entertainment. Research by University of Washington Professor Brandon Centerwall has linked violent media to largely influencing about half of crime in America. Saying Hitler never played video games is like saying Sumo wrestlers never lay in front of the T.V. eating hamburgers and milkshakes. If parents take an active approach to help their children make responsible choices in media use, parents can intercept negative or contradicting lessons and teach their own values to their children instead.

The question of whether video games, television, and music lyrics play a role in violent behavior has been debated for many years. In the 2004 Association for Psychological Science Journal, there is extensive and definitive scientific research illustrated in the article "The Influence of Media Violence on Youth" by Psychology Researchers and professors at various universities. The studies state that "Short-term exposure increases the likelihood of physically and verbally aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions. Recent large-scale longitudinal studies provide converging evidence linking frequent exposure to violent media in childhood with aggression later in life, including physical assaults and spouse abuse."

Translation: Children who watched violence showed a short-term and long-term increase in negative behavior. Those who deny the correlation, South Carolina's Attorney General Charlie Condon said, "live in the same kind of dream world created for teen-agers by many of today's violent movies, video games and gangster-rap music." Yet, according to a report by the FTC there has been little change in the violent and crude behavior in this media.
Although not all individuals hold similar beliefs about violence, individuals who repeat what they see and hear in the media still have an effect on others, creating the social issue we have in America. Individuals with an internal locus of control recognize that witnessing violent and crude behavior might lower their morals, yet they acknowledge they are responsible for their actions, feelings, and behaviors.

In contrast, whether subconsciously or not, those with more of an external locus of control consider themselves a product of their environment. Children, the mentally ill, sociopaths and psychopaths are some examples and are much more susceptible to repeating what they see and hear in the media.
According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, before the age of 18 a young American will witness over 200,000 acts of violence including 16,000 muders on television. Researchers Grossman and Degaetano found that children begin to understand and mimic what is on television at 18 months old. "But up until they're six or seven years old," says Degaetano, "they are developmentally, psychologically, physically unable to discern the difference between fantasy and reality." Studies stated some children embrace violence and accept it as normal and an essential survival skill.

Television shows, music lyrics, video games and advertisements in America often set unrealistic social expectations and standards. A lot of this various entertainment targets teenagers, such as rap music and the show "South Park." Children learn that when they meet those masculine or feminine expectations and stereotypes, they fit in with society; otherwise, those different from them are punished for not conforming to those stereotypes. This contributes to low self-esteem and a sense of exclusion which are key factors in school shootings according to Supervisory Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mary Ellen O'Toole. If parents intervene in this influence they help their children realize what is a distorted view of the world and what is appropriate entertainment.

With the increasingly competitive economy, parents are spending longer hours at work away from their children. Outside influences have more access to and influence over these children. A National Television Violence Study stated that media is now a child's main socializer and role model; children spend almost 30 hours a week watching television and only half this amount of time at school. Television has become a sort of babysitter for these children.

Most parents cannot afford to spend time monitoring their children's exposure to violent media. Marriage and Family Therapist Lisa Dunning says taking a proactive approach using the time you do have with them will maximize your influence over the negative effects of the outside world. If you help young people understand what is unrealistic in entertainment and discuss why, you teach them how to avoid falling victim to negative influences. Researchers say that parental attitudes towards media violence can determine the impact it has on children. Huesmann and Bacharach say "Family attitudes and social class are stronger determinants of attitudes toward aggression than is the amount of exposure to TV, which is nevertheless a significant but weaker predictor."
If you encourage them to decide for themselves if a show or song is distasteful rather than passively accepting it, they can learn how to more effectively handle emotions rather than mimicking the violent outbusts that they see in movies. If parents teach their children to have an internal locus of control and to avoid influence of innapropriate entertainment, it may prevent violent behavior and lead to a healthier mental state.

Educational television is one alternative that benefits people academically. Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, and The Learning Channel are some programs that encourage positive values and help stimulate learning. There are some video games and computer games for kids and teens that aren't full of violence and crude behavior, such as some of The Sims games that develop strategic thinking and planning skills. Also, parents might want to consider using the V-Chip, a device that protects your little ones from viewing innapropriate shows. You can also call or write your local stations and networks to take action against violent media targeted at youth.

More about this author: Theadora Ehlers

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