Being a teenager today is extremely difficult and even dangerous. Teenage violence has become an epidemic over the past 10 years and school shootings a common incident. Many teenagers who are responsible for these shootings have been bullied or exposed to violence of some sort, whether in their upbringing at home, at school or through the media.
According to a report released in 2002 on violence in the media, many school shooters were obsessed with video games and only some had experience with guns before their shooting rampages. In fact, one of the Columbine shooters reprogrammed one of his video games to replicate his neighborhood and include the homes of individuals he hated.
Although many factors are involved in causing youth violence, such as poverty, familial psychopathology, child abuse, domestic or community violence, substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders, research shows that exposure to media violence plays a powerful role in precipitating children’s violent behavior.
Staggering number of violent acts viewed
The past 30 years have produced numerous studies on the relationship between media violence and violent behavior among American youth. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in 1950, only 10 percent of American homes had a television compared to 99 percent today. In fact, more families have televisions than telephones. More than half of all children have a television in their bedrooms. On average, children watch approximately 28 hours of television per week, more time than they spend in school. The average 1-year-old watches six hours of television per week.
The typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence, including more than 16,000 murders on television before the age of 18. Television programs display 812 violent acts per hour; children’s programming, particularly cartoons, displays up to 20 violent acts hourly. These numbers exclude other types of media, such as video games, music, movies and the Internet, all of which contain an enormous amount of violence, especially gun violence.
Before the age of 4, children are unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy and learn mainly through imitating what they see. The bad guys on television that carry guns and shoot people can translate into real life for children who are constantly exposed to this type of behavior through video games and television. Exposure to so much media violence teaches the youth that violent acts are an effective way to solve conflicts. Heroes such as the Power Rangers are violent and rewarded for this behavior, teaching children that fighting is acceptable and leading to a greater tendency toward violent behavior and aggression later in real life.
Tips for protecting children
Parents must take an active role in monitoring their children’s media exposure. Here are 11 tips for limiting children’s exposure to violence in the media.
1. Remove the TV from children’s bedrooms permanently.
2. Do not use the TV as a baby sitter.
3. Do not use TV as a reward or punishment. Both make TV more important to children.
4. Set limits on TV watching time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting viewing time to one to two hours per day on school days and two to three hours per day on weekends and holidays.
5. Turn the TV off during conversations and mealtime.
6. Do not arrange family/living room furniture with the TV as the focal point.
7. Preview programs first whenever possible and screen new shows intended for children.
8. Forbid shows with graphic violence.
9. Watch programs with children to help them interpret what they see. Observe them as they watch and make note of their mood, whether they are sad, confused, worried, happy or bored. Discuss their reactions and foster critical-thinking skills.
10. Use V-chip technology to block children from watching inappropriate material on TV. V-chips read electronically coded ratings for programs to deny access if a program meets set limitations.
11. Provide alternative activities, especially reading or playing outside.
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Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer