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Media Violence and Children

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Media violence is ever-increasing, and studies have shown that it does correlate with more aggression and violent behavior in children and teens. Learn the definitions of media and media violence, theories of why media violence is increasing violent behavior and ways to help prevent the impact.

What Is Media Violence?

Anthony is a ninth grader who spends about two hours every day playing war-related video games after school and on the weekends. Anthony's mother worries about Anthony's exposure to violent media and wonders if it will affect his personality or turn him into a violent person.

Anthony's exposure to violent media is not uncommon. In fact, one research study in the early 2000s found that teenage boys Anthony's age were playing video games for an average of 13 hours a week. In 2001, a content analysis was done of video games, and it found that 89% of video games have violent content, and half of those games involve killing or seriously injuring game characters.

Halo is a popular video game and example of media violence in which a player can pretend he is a military fighter.
Halo video game

Video games are just one form of media violence, though. Media is mass communication in many formats, including television, the Internet, the newspaper, video games, music videos, movies and radio. Media violence is the portrayal of aggressive, violent and hostile acts of one human towards another. This can include humans engaging in acts like hurting, torturing, killing, raping or stealing from each other. Now that we know what media violence is, we can take a more in-depth look at how children are exposed to it and find ways to limit its impact.

Children's Exposure to Media

Sometimes, Anthony's friend Alex comes over to play video games at Anthony's house because his family doesn't have a television. Alex's family is in the minority, because 99% of families in the U.S. have televisions. This has changed dramatically since the 1950s, when only 10% of families had televisions.

Media violence has been around for a while, but the severity and amount of media violence has greatly increased since this black-and-white Chuck Connors film.
Chuck Connors

Toddlers and preschool-aged children are not spared from media violence. Content analysis of cartoons has shown that even they have about 20 violent behaviors or acts per hour. By the time a teenager graduates from high school, he has seen about 200,000 acts of violence on television, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Media violence is not limited to hurting or killing; media may also depict sexual abuse or violence. In fact, 15% of music videos contain interpersonal violence, like domestic violence. The Internet is a scary place as well, from violent and abusive pornographic media, to videos on how to make a bomb, to blogs about how to buy an assault weapon. Now that we know where the content is coming from, let's look at how it effects children.

Does Media Violence Increase Violent Tendencies in Children?

Anthony's mother has reason to be concerned. Numerous research studies have shown that there is a correlation between aggression/violent acts and exposure to media violence. So, research supports the 'aggressor effect,' a theory that the more violent television, video games, and other violent media a person is exposed to, the more mean, aggressive and violent that person will become.

Adults have emotionally matured enough to know the difference between right and wrong, reality and fiction, and the relational, legal or occupational consequences of aggression and violence. However, children are more impressionable, have a harder time deciphering between fiction and reality (this is especially true of preschool-aged children), and are still developing their moral compass.

Children who are exposed to media violence may:

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