Inspiring Better Health

Violence in Media and Child Behavior

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Violence in Media and Child Behavior
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By Rawa Alagha –

Millennials grew up collecting and exchanging Pokémon stickers. Now they fight in the battlefield to capture them and win the game. Where once scary movies were shown late at night and television was a handful of channels, now violent films are available on all devices, on demand, 24/7. Where once the gore was made of ketchup, now HD and special effects provide super-realistic horror and bloodshed. How does the increase in available media violence affect children?

Imitating Aggression

We are surrounded by screens – televisions, smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, virtual reality headsets. No wonder our children have access to more violent media than ever before. Psychologists define media violence as visual portrayals of aggression by one human, animal or supernatural creature against another. This sounds not just like many films, but also many children’s programmes and video games. In 1963, social learning researchers studied the effect of witnessing violence on child behavior. They found that 88% of children will imitate an aggressive display they witness passively (for example, on a tv screen), either by copying the aggressor or the victim. Modern research keeps reaffirming this result. Alarm bells should be ringing.

A report published in Psychiatric Times in 2012 finds that violence doesn’t only affect behavior; it extends to cognition and affection. Cognition is like the foundation on which the bricks of affection and behavior are built up to shape one’s character. Your child’s psyche is a bit like play-dough, it models itself according to its environment. We all want the best for our children. We need to be careful what they are watching and how long they spend looking at media. But it isn’t just about the hours; it’s the type of content they consume. A study published in 2000 at the Journal of American Medical Association concluded that every G-rated movie contained at least one violent act. Scary! So, how can you make sure that your child’s media diet is healthy?

A Healthier Media Diet

Screen is to the brain what food is to the body. You need to be picky what you give it. Choose media that improves and supports your well-being, and your children’s. Here are two useful tips that will help you clean up your media diet—one preventive; the other corrective.

    1. Talk with Your Children

It’s very important that parents and educators talk to children about the side effects of violence and explain to them how harmful it can be if they copy these acts. Using simple language, tell them how a character suffers from pain, how the villain has hurt himself, or how the act has turned out to be destructive for everyone. By doing this, you can also help your child understand that this is a fictional story that should not be imitated or applied to real life. Be mindful of the type of media you watch when your child is around. They will follow your example, so choose healthier media like informational documentaries and educational programmes. Swap video game time for family time, go for a walk, cook a meal together, dig out those old board games.

    1. Soothe those Media Memories

What if your child gets up at night crying? They can’t sleep because of a scary programme they watched earlier. Here’s a tip to soothe them back to sleep. First, be understanding and open. Allow them to tell you everything, be as descriptive as possible: the colors they see, the smell and the roars of the monster that lurks in the dark. Now you can help them think about it differently. Gently tell them to imagine they are watching the scene from a beautiful airplane, or train, or magic carpet, or whatever you child enjoys. And as the airplane takes off and flies away, the monster gets smaller and smaller, until it disappears. They are now swimming with the clouds. This NLP technique can help them get over unpleasant media memories and back to a restful sleep.

Children are especially vulnerable to violence in media, so we should take care that they are not exposed to it, or as little as possible. As parents, we have a special responsibility towards the next generation of adults—lets show them how to love instead of how to fight.

Did you find this helpful? Share it with your friends, or share your own tips on keeping your children away from screen violence.