Television, movies, music and interactive games are powerful learning tools and highly influential media. The average American child spends as much as 28 hours a week watching television and typically at least an hour a day playing video games or surfing the Internet. Several more hours each week are spent watching movies and listening to music. When these entertainment media showcase violence—and particularly in a context which glamorizes or trivializes it—the lessons can be destructive.
At this time, well over 1,000 studies—including reports from the Surgeon General’s office, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and numerous studies conducted by leading figures within medical and public health organizations—point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in children.1 The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.
As I wrote in Adult Survivors' Attachment Styles, when children are either experiencing child abuse and/or witnessing domestic violence at home, what view of the world do they incorporate into their developing minds as they constantly view violence in the media?
Research has shown the effect of entertainment violence on children takes several forms2:
- Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts. Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.
- Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life. It can decrease the likelihood that one will take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs.
- Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place. Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and a mistrust of others.
- Viewing violence may lead to real life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed.
Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment (video games and other interactive media) on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music.
All of this research points to a clear picture of the pathological effects of entertainment violence. It is just another example of why we need to put the issue of child abuse on the national agenda.
1 Joint Statement on The Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children, Congressional Public Health Summit, July 26, 2000, signed by the: American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry