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Violent media and Children: What You can do about exposure to gun violence

Many movies, video games, online media and cartoons feature characters using guns.  What impact can these movies have on the attitude of your child to violence and the use of weapons? A new study reported  that children exposed to movies containing guns are likely to become more aggressive and pull the trigger, if given the opportunity.

This was the finding of a study   titled Effects of Exposure to Gun Violence in Movies on Children’s Interest in Real Guns, published   September, 2017 in JAMA Pediatrics.

In other to find out if watching a seeing a movie featuring guns could elicit interests in real guns, the researchers conducted an experiment involving 52 pairs of children that were  randomly assigned to two groups.  While one group saw a 20-minute edited version of the PG-rated films “The Rocketeer” or “National Treasure” that contained guns, the other group watched the same movies without scenes showing guns.

When the kids were  left to play unsupervised in a room containing a real but disabled gun, those that watched the movie with scenes containing guns pulled the triggers more often than those in the other group. Interestingly, they also spent more time holding the gun and were more likely to play aggressively or fire at people.

Does this study prove that watching violence makes a person violent?  Not  really. Several factors including personality, mental well-being, and use of hard drugs also contribute to violent behaviour. Nevertheless, this study adds to the growing evidence linking violent media, which is increasingly pervasive, with violent behaviour in children.

In recent times, there have been reports of children accidentally shooting others. For instance, in 2015, a  2-year-old   shot herself with a 20-gauge shotgun she found on a table. Two months later, one 12 year old boy  shot his 9-year-old brother.  In another related incident, a 5 year old found her grandmother’s gun under the pillow and shot herself in the neck.  These rise in the incidents of gun related violence is a source of concerns to many parents.

Could exposure to gun violence in movies and other forms of media have contributed to these incidents?  We don’t know.   Nevertheless, violent media has become pervasive in today’s world and experts have suggested that this have an impact on how people feel about using it to resolve issues For instance, these movies  ‘normalize’ violent behaviour which could make it more difficult for people to exercise restraint in the use of violence.

What can you do to reduce the impact of violent media on children?

Consider the following suggestions from experts:

  1. Let your child know how you feel about violence. Do you enjoy watching violent movies? If so, do not be surprised if your child enjoys them too. One study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that parents who watched a lot of movies were more likely to say it was OK for younger kids to watch movies that had R-rated violence and sexual content.
  2. Know what your child is watching. Be interested in what your child watches or the video games he enjoys. Be sure that this is properly rated e.g.  PG (parental guidance).  You may need to do research on TV shows, popular movies and games before your child is exposed to them. Also, confirm with teachers at school or day care centres if there are firm restrictions on the media available to children. In some day care centres, babysitters tune to channels that feature adult movies even in the presence of the children they supervise.
  3. Explain the consequences of violent behaviour to your children.  Children may assume that violent behaviour is not really harmful just because there’s no blood in cartoons and video games. They should understand that in the real world, people are likely to end up behind bars or be killed for violent behaviour.
  4. Set restrictions on how much time your child spends on the watching movies and other media. This is especially so if the movie is potentially violent. The more involved the child is, the more likely the movie would have an impact on the child.  For example, movies that feature real characters that the child can identify with may potentially have more impact. Rather than giving children unhindered access to cable TV, you may need to block some channels or tape selected programs for them to watch.  Remember to replace violent content with positive and wholesome entertainment.
  5. Show your  child non-violent ways of resolving conflicts. Rather than resolve issues with their fists or weapons, encourage your child to find socially acceptable ways of resolving disagreements. This may involve reporting to relevant authorities and being assertive.

Although multiple factors beyond watching violent movies contribute to violent behaviour, taking steps to reduce exposure to violent media is worthwhile.

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