The effect of violent media on children

I’m pretty sure I’ve heard “experts” give evidence for and against the role violent media plays in influencing violent or aggressive behavior in children. It probably comes down to semantics; how do you define violent media, how do you define aggressive behavior? Either way, my personal opinion is that whatever we take into our bodies and minds will later be expressed in our bodies and minds. The extent of the manifestation depends on a lot of different factors. I think it is likely that violent entertainment or news media doesn’t cause aggressive behavior, but is highly correlated with it. Violent media offers modeled behavior of how to express aggression. For the aggravated person this may be more influential than for the peaceful person. Humans by nature are empathetic, so seeing aggression and violence triggers the empathy response in the body and makes the viewer feel some of what they are seeing. For the emotionally immature, this can be dangerous. Children are often emotionally immature. Unfortunately a lot of adults are, too.

The way I see it we have two options: stop depictions of violence in movies, television and music, or teach emotional maturity and sound decision making. A combination of both would probably be optimal. I like action movies when there is a good story and the depictions of human depravity aren’t too heavy. I think the comic book themed movies of the last ten years are great, but they are at times rather aggressive. While I can handle the anarchist revolution themes of the newest Batman movie, I’m pretty sure it is the reason why our nine month old daughter now tries to squirm away whenever we try to change her diaper. She is revolting! That’s just a joke. Bane never modeled that type of rebellious behavior when Batman was trying to change his diaper.

One example of violent media influence aggressive behavior is found in the book Last Chance in Texas by reporter John Hubner. In the book Hubner follows two groups of youth through a State school run by the Texas Youth Commission, juvenile corrections. One of the boys recounts an event earlier in his life when he held a gun to his little brother’s head and said he was going to kill him. One of the counselors with the group asked where he learned that phrase, to which the boy said it was from a movie. Hubner makes the point that it was the fact that this boy had seen violence, and been victimized, his whole life, so violence was normal to him. It wasn’t the fictional violence that made him act that way, but rather the fictional violence fit with his concept of normalcy in a way that made the violent behavior he saw in a movie a valid expression of anger towards another person. Because the violent media fit with his violent concept of life it was easier for him to follow the modeled behavior.

Celebrities will star in excessively violent movies and then turn around and say there is nothing bad that follows. I don’t think they are just trying to excuse culpability, I think they honestly believe it. Most of us realize we aren’t going to repeat the things we see in violent media in real life. It doesn’t fit with our normal. But for those whose normal is not the same normal as the status quo, the media influence becomes more of a reality and less of a fantasy escape from reality. So the question comes up again, do we cancel the violent media or teach emotional maturity, and with it try to improve upon everyone’s concept of normalcy? The first option is easier, mandates and regulations are usually easier, hence the preference of governments to go in that direction. If people eat poorly, take away the food so they can’t eat it, ban large sodas. If people shoot other people, take away all of the guns. In neither case is the problem addressed, but if carried out fully the end result is the preferred result, to an extent. It is unrealistic, but if it were possible to remove all unhealthy foods from the American diet, and remove all guns from the face of the planet there it would follow that there would be no more obesity or shooting victims. Also gone would be free will and moral agency.

Does violent media effect children? Of course. Why do you watch anything? Because it effects you. We consume media because of what it does to us. It isn’t about if it effects or not, but rather what is done with the effect once it takes place.

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About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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2 Responses to The effect of violent media on children

  1. ryan59479 says:

    I liked what you said regarding emotional maturity. I think a huge component of that is parenting. If parents don’t take the time to teach their kids the difference between fantasy and reality, then of course excessively violent role models become viable means to express behavior. I know that when my brother and I were growing up, we’d watching movies with violence in them…then we’d run around and pretend to shoot each other with cap guns. Neither of us has a violent bone in our bodies. But our parents took the time to explain to us that television and movies were fictional, what acceptable behavior was, and taught us emotional coping skills. I think where violence in the media becomes a real problem for children is where there is an utter lack of supervision or some sort of preexisting mental condition.

  2. paulbrodie says:

    Right on. My brother and I always had some kind of weapons in our playing, imagined or plastic. I don’t remember any times when our parents told us what was or wasn’t appropriate behavior in regards to violence, but it was a long time ago. I’m sure when we hit each other they explained appropriate behavior. They also modeled appropriate behavior for us. They didn’t fight with each other and they didn’t fight with us. Whether I learned it in words or by example it is the same, and all these years later I am the result of my early experiences.
    I agree with you completely that the parents are crucial in this matter. In each of the situations you suggest (lack of supervision or cognitive delay, disability or dysfunction) the solution is parental involvement.
    Thanks for the contributing to the discussion!

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