– Donovan, 15
New research about the influence of media violence on children may offer a startling new way to predict who will grow up to be a violent adult: find out how much violence on television and in the movies children watched when they were 6, 8 or 10 years old.
When they watch television, movies and video games, Benford and his buddies are impressed by the violence.
“I just think it’s pretty cool -- blow up somebody,” says Benford, 16.
“Just stuck him on a hook and it came through the stomach,” says Seth, 15.
“And his guts go everywhere,” says Benford.
How powerful is media violence? Researchers at the University of Michigan have been tracking more than 800 children for more than 40 years. They started in 1960 and they found that the more young children were exposed to media violence, the more likely they were to end up as violent adults. In fact, media violence was a better predictor of later crime and violence than poverty, substance abuse or even abusive parents.
“Television is on in the average American home about eight hours a day. At the same time, people are engaged in what we call interpersonal familial conversations with one another for about four minutes a day. So where are they getting their messages? Clearly they’re getting their messages from the media,” says Art Silverblatt, PhD, professor of communications.
Experts say the message is that violence is normal.
“They become desensitized to aggression and violence. And I think that the more they’re exposed to it as well, the more they’re likely to use that form of behavior to solve problems,” says Jennifer Kelly, Ph.D., psychologist.
“I think when people play video games and people watch videos and they see violence a lot, it just becomes natural to them and it just doesn’t seem bad anymore, and it really is,” says Donovan, 15.
Experts say parents can’t eliminate all media violence in a child’s life, but they can use a violent scene to teach kids about the reality of it.
“Talk about what you think happened to that person’s family … the mourning that occurred and how the parents or somebody else’s life could be changed as a result of this aggressive violent act,” says Kelly.
Tips for Parents
Advice from the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF):
Limit game-playing time to no more than one hour per day.
Play with your child to become familiar with the games.
Provide alternative ways for your child to spend time.
Require that homework and jobs be done first; use video game playing as a reward.
Do not put a video game set in a child’s room where he/she can shut the door and isolate himself/herself.
Talk about the content of the games.
Ask your video store to require parental approval before a violently rated video game can be rented by children.
When buying video games for your child, it is important to purchase games targeted to his/her age group. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates every video and computer game for age appropriateness (located on the front of the packaging) and, when appropriate, labels games with content descriptions. The ESRB’s current rating standard is as follows:
EC – Early Childhood (3 and older)
E – Everyone (6 and older)
E10+ – Everyone (10 and older)
T – Teens (13 and older)
M – Mature audiences (17 and older)
AO – Adults Only
RP – Rating Pending
Talk to other parents. Find out which games other parents like and dislike, as well as which games they let your child play when he/she visits their house. This is a good way to learn about the games that your child enjoys and those that other parents approve of, and to let other parents know which games you do not want your child playing. (ESRB)
Know your child. Different children handle situations differently. Regardless of age, if your child becomes aggressive or unsettled after playing violent video games, don’t buy games with violence in them. Likewise, if your child likes playing games with characters that look like him/her, purchase games with characters that fit the bill. (ESRB)
National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF)
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)