After another shocking mass shooting, is it perhaps time to talk about the effects of media violence on children? It’s fairly clear that the perpetrator in the Aurora, Colorado shooting was influenced by the violence in the Batman movie series. Was he also exposed to a lot of media violence in childhood? We don’t know yet, but it may be a factor.
Research shows that media violence leads to an increase in aggressive attitudes and behavior, especially in children, and has a long lasting effect on behavior and personality. Studies also show that nearly two-thirds of all programming contains violence; and children’s shows contain the most violence.
A new study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture – a journal of the American Psychological Association – identifies media violence exposure as one of six risk factors for predicting later aggression in children ages 7 to 11. (The other factors are bias toward hostility, low parental involvement, gender, physical victimization and prior physical fights.) Douglas Gentile, Iowa State University associate professor of psychology, concludes that when considered with other risk factors, the effects of media violence exposure may actually be underestimated by previous scientific measures.
The takeaway from Gentile’s study is that exposure to media violence is one risk factor that parents can have some control over. Clearly, parents should seek to limit young children’s exposure to violent media entertainment as much as possible. Young children should not be watching The Dark Knight Rises, or playing Halo. Or even watching the nightly news, for that matter.
But with media violence so prevalent, we simply can’t block it all. Beyond limiting exposure, we need to be offering additional guidance to children. Two recent studies conclude that Media Literacy education can be very effective in helping young people navigate harmful media messages and reduce the impact of damaging media messages regarding violence:
Journal of Communications, April 24, 2012
Journal of Children and Media, Feb. 27, 2012
In the wake of this latest horrible real life event, it is clear that there is an urgent need for Media Literacy education for all of our children. What are we waiting for?