Winter 2014 Health Link Online

HealthLink Online

Uniting Children, Parents, Caregivers, and Health Professionals

Violence Prevention

Violence Prevention

Many studies show the harmful effects of exposing children to violence in television shows, computer games, music and movies. Violence in media promotes aggressive behavior, nightmares and fear of being harmed. Most of it minimizes the consequences of violent actions. The review of evidence by experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that “…media violence is one of the causes of real-life violence and aggression.” Pediatrics 2009;124;1495

In the United States, even before the widespread use of smart phones, children less than 6 years of age spent an average of 2 hours a day watching screen media. Those between 8 and 18 years of age averaged more than triple that amount. Now, we see many very young children being allowed to play with smart phones. It is likely that children’s viewing time has increased.

The AAP’s 2009 policy statement reported how many families put TVs in their children’s bedrooms. The rates were 19% of infants, 29% of 2-3 year olds, 43% of 4-6 year olds, and 68% of children 8 years of age and older. Research shows that having a TV in the child’s bedroom decreases their physical activity, increases the risk of obesity, and interferes with their participation in activities that are more developmentally appropriate.

The majority of TV shows, screen games and popular music include glamorized interpersonal verbal and physical abuse. Essentially all of the animated movies and games made for children include violence. These media capture children’s attention, but teaching them nothing about suffering and loss that result from violence. 

Young children lack the ability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. They imitate and adopt behaviors they observe. Children need adult guidance to avoid exposure to violence. If they are exposed to portrayal of violence as a thrilling experience, a trusted adult should explain how it is harmful to everyone involved.

Fear of violence leads to excessive vigilance and anxiety. Some adults have increased carrying weapons to respond to perceived threats. The evidence shows that more weapon carrying leads to more violence. It does not prevent violence.

Early childhood professionals can:

  • Resist use of passive and violent media in early education facilities. Encourage families to limit these media experiences elsewhere. Watch what children are watching; if they see violence help them understand why what they have seen is not appropriately portrayed.
  • Encourage families to take TVs out of bedrooms and limit screen time altogether. 
  • Avoid portrayal of violence as exciting, entertaining or an appropriate way to respond to conflict. When a child experiences violence in real life or in the media, talk about the pain and loss that everyone involved suffers.

For more about how to prevent and help children cope with exposure to violence, go to www.healthychildren.org. Put “violence” in the search box to select from more than 350 articles, videos, and audio messages about this topic.