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How shall we think about violence in video? How shall we think about the effects of video violence on our children? These problems need to be considered as part of the larger picture on the varieties of video and music and our children feeling “at home.”

There are many factors to consider. Among them are the age of each child, how impressionable is each child, how well each child recognizes reality, what are the interests of their peer group, and the most difficult problem is what are the effects of video violence on our children. Let's consider each of these.

Violent history
First, some brief history may be helpful. I was a teen during World War II. During those teen years we saw many violent images regularly in newsreels in theaters and cheered enemies destroyed. Some of the images were in color and some were really horrible. Pictures of the London blitz made me think of my city. Much later we saw even worse images not in theaters but on our home televisions during the Viet Nam, Iraq, and other conflicts.

Some of the violence we see in theaters and on television now is more vivid, but designed to draw our feelings into the story. The makers of motion pictures seem to compete to make the latest even more horrible than the last film. More importantly they try to make it more personal to make us involve our feelings with characters in the film.

What is the effect of these images and drawing us into them?

Listen carefully
Second, as part of Synergistic Parenting be aware that your child plays with other children and goes to the malls, and so may see violent films and play violent video games that parents do not see or know about, unless our children voluntarily talk with us. It is important to build give-and-take relationships with each child, in which each child feels free to talk about what they have seen and felt. We may have very little control over what our child sees on television or computer screens, except as we build this relationship and practice listening.

A fundamental part of that relationship must be utter honesty on both sides. We must feel free to share our fears about violent video, for example, in such a way that our child does not dismiss our fears and us with such thoughts as “old fashioned” or “not hip or cool.” The child needs to feel free to share concerns or feelings or questions, knowing that we will listen, will accept them and their feelings, that we will not be shocked, and we will love and accept our child no matter that they say.

Other factors are the age of each child, how impressionable each one is, and how well they know reality. Older children are generally better able to think abstractly, understand reality as different from video representations, and be more mature in their responses to impressions. These are general facts, but vary widely with each child and that child’s age and degree of maturity.

The two teens who planned, prepared for, and carried out the Columbine School massacre had major problems. We as parents must be sensitive to any clues that any child may give that hints at such anti-social and violent feelings. Noteworthy is that those two boys felt rejected by their peers. Feeling rejection is a powerful force. Being accepted by peers and being part of a peer group is critical for teens. If that peer group is busy with music, one of the sciences, other study areas, or athletics, it is a focus for energies and inter-action that may reduce the interest in violence.

You may want to read Dr. Bruce Perry's answers and suggestions of why violence happens.

Effects of violent video
The most difficult part of violent video is to understand its possible effects on children. How do they respond to it?

To begin, it is very difficult to prove that violent video causes violent behavior in children, but that is not important. As a social scientist, let me assure you that proving cause is really difficult. A study in 2003 shows that violent video seen by children tends to make them more violent as adults.

I think we must focus our attention on what our children get used to and what they are sensitive to. What becomes a habit, or what are they “conditioned” to as okay or normal? What become okay in their habitual thinking?

If a child sees enough violence, they may be conditioned to it, so that it shocks them less and less. This is, I think, a major factor in considering violent video. If this happens, then they may accept the violence as increasingly normal, and be less shocked by it. Our talking may seem to have very little effect compared to the vividness, action, striking colors, and sounds of the video, if they enjoy it and it satisfies them.

To what degree does your child enjoy the video games or films? If a child spends hours playing violent video games, not only are they being conditioned but are they enjoying it, and getting satisfaction from it? Are they being thrilled by it? Are they being stimulated by it?

When they see violent video on television or in theaters, they are watching action and a story unfold that tries to get their feelings involved. When they play video games, they cause the action in all its vividness and sounds. Do they get satisfaction by causing it? Are they stimulated by causing it?

Your goals
Is one of your goals for your children that they be sensitive to human need? If so, if you want them to be humanitarian as opposed to selfish, then violent computer games and films will likely help your child develop what goals? In the give-and-take conversation with each child probe to understand how well they separate the game from reality and how the violence effects their outlook as humans.

The final question is not, I think, the effects of violent video, but what do they condition our child to accept as okay? What effects do they have on our child’s sensitivity to other people being hurt or traumatized? Can they clearly separate the games action from violence at school or play? What effects do these videos have on the values we want out children to develop as they mature?

Copyright © 2002 John F. Yeaman





The report in the March 2003 issue of Developmental Psychology includes this selected part of the summary; notice how large a number of persons were studied. Copies of this scientific journal are in libraries:

"The current study examines the longitudinal relations between TV-violence viewing at ages 6 to 10 and adult aggressive behavior about 15 years later for a sample growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Follow-up archival data (N = 450) and interview data (N = 329) reveal that childhood exposure to media violence predicts young adult aggressive behavior for both males and females."