How Does Violence in Media Affect Kids?

By Karen Boyd
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Children are exposed to violence in almost every facet of their lives, from cartoons to television news. Even protective parents cannot shield their children from the violence that pervades the media. The concern is how all the violence children witness affects them.

Types of Media Exposure

According to the Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions, television displays 812 violent acts per hour. Television marketed specifically to children contains 20 violent images every hour. Added up, the average child in the United States witnesses 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders by the time she reaches the age of 18. Add to those numbers the violence children are exposed to through song lyrics, video games, comic books, and newspapers and the volume of violence exposure is immense.

History of Exposure to Media Violence

Although children have been exposed to violence in the media for many years, research shows that exposure has increased dramatically. According to a study of Canadian television programming by Laval University, the number of depicted violent acts rose 378 percent between 1993 and 2001. Violence in Media Entertainment also reports that television news has gotten more graphic than it was in the past, and also points to the violent, graphic nature of popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto where players earn points by beating prostitutes to death with a baseball bat.

Impact on Young Children

According to Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions, children under the age of 4 cannot distinguish between what is real and what is make believe. Children at this age who are exposed to violence see it as normal and become desensitized to it. Research done as early as the 1950s and '60s showed that children who watched a violent cartoon hit their playmates more often than children who watched a non-violent cartoon. In 2003 a Kaiser Foundation study showed that 47 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 6 acted out a violent action they witnessed in the media.

Impact of Media Violence on Older Children

In 2003 the Texas Department of Human Services conducted a survey of male college students which showed that listening to violent music increased the students' feelings of hostility. Additionally, a study started in 1960 showed that the males who watched the most television were more likely to have gotten in legal trouble by their 19th birthday, and that this group had higher than average convictions for serious crime and domestic violence by the time they reached their 30th birthday.

Limiting the Affects of Media Violence

Parents should limit the amount of time their children watch television or movies, and should prohibit violent video games. Additionally children should not have televisions in their bedrooms, and should only use the computer in public areas of the home. Parents should talk to their children about what they see in the media to reassure children that violence is not normal, and that much of the violence is pretend.

About the Author

Legal - I have 15+ years experience as a trial attorney handling criminal and civil cases. I taught classes at both the Anchorage Police Academy, at the Alaska State Crime Lab, and at Alaska Junior College. Motorcycles - I have a published book for beginning women riders, and own and operate a web forum with over 800 members from 10 countries. I am known in the motorcycling community as a distance rider and mentor for new riders.