Effects of Television Violence on Children

The periodical of the American Association of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, reports conclusively about the correlation between violence on television and its effects on children's behavior. Pediatricians are urged to educate parents about the effects of television violence on children. Here are some of their findings, and what parents can do to counteract and avoid the harmful effects.

A three-year study called the National Television Violence Study concluded that between 10 and 20% of real-life violence may be associated with violence learned from the media. Violence has become ever more prevalent in children's programming, commercials, movies and music videos.

Children's Development
Children under age six are particularly vulnerable to the effects of violence on television. At this age, children are not able to distinguish real from unreal when they watch TV. Developmentally, they do not yet have the skills to tell the difference. Therefore, television violence of any kind is teaching them something about the way people behave. Children this age are not yet proficient at telling ideal behavior from bad choices, and they may be internalizing the wrong message. In addition, disturbing images can stay with a child, causing him to develop defense mechanisms or act out in response to the "fight or flight" instinct.

What Characterizes Violence?
Violence includes: fighting, weapons, one character hurting another, swearing, use of force and coercion and harm to live beings. The National Television Violence Study defines these three criterion: "(a) intention to harm, (b) the physical nature of the harm, and (c) the involvement of animate beings."

What Can Parents Do?
There are several key things parents can do to limit children's exposure to violence on television.

Reduce television time. Encourage physical and creative activities, hobbies and games that promote positive social mores, learning and appropriate behaviors instead.

Choose positive programming. Use the v-chip for parental control, monitor what your children watch, and only allow programming that has positive content and no violence.

Watch with children. Discuss the issues the characters are facing and the child's feelings about the situations. Teach expectations and appropriate reactions. For teens, discuss the choices the characters make and the values your family holds in relation to what is being viewed. This is especially important when sexual behavior, drugs and alcohol use are included in the content of the program.

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