Peaceful Childhoods – Media Violence and Entertainment

VIOLENCE IN MEDIA

Media is increasingly playing a huge role in how people communicate and perceive the world. Frequently, it portrays conflict as easily being resolved through high tech weaponry and violence, without any repercussions. It usually involves clear lines of good vs. evil, and can dehumanize those portrayed as evil.[1] This serves to glorify, glamorize, and trivialize violence; parents pay for this message to be spread through the purchasing of TV bundles, movies, and video games.[2] Though studies are often conflicting, possible effects of watching media violence on children include increased fear of the world, desensitization to real world violence, increased aggressive behaviour, decreased levels of empathy, the internalization of a false paradigm of ‘us vs. them’ where killing solves people’s problems, and associating killing with pleasure and entertainment.[3]

Television: In 2015, 96% of households in Canada have televisions, and between 2013-2014 Canadian children and teens each spent an average of 19-20 hours per week watching TV.[4] Overall, TV viewing levels by children and teens in Canada have increased only slightly since 1995.[5] Although television use may not have increased significantly, other forms of screen time have gone up. While media can be a very positive tool, it can also be the medium for the message that violence is a positive way to resolve conflict. Unfortunately media targeted at children depicts even more violence than adult programming, with 76.9% of Canadian children’s programming in 1997 featuring violence, averaging 21.5 occurrences of violence per hour of children’s programming.[6] The advertisements featured on American children’s programming on Saturday mornings contains almost twice as many violent acts per minute than the programming itself.[7] In 1998, it was estimated that American children on average would see 200 000 violent acts on TV by age 18.[8] A study of 74 G-rated animated films appearing in theatres in English between 1937-1999 found that every film contained at least one act of violence, and the duration of violent scenes have increased over the years.[9]

Video games: In America in 2008, 97% of teens played electronic games (either computer, web, portable, or console-based games).[10] Physical violence in many video games is often paired with racial and religious stereotypes, sexual violence, and huge amounts of gore; 49% of teens who play multiplayer games reported hearing or seeing people being racist, sexist, or hateful while gaming.[11] Although games have ratings, younger teens are just as likely as older teens to play mature or adult-only rated games.[12] Some games have violence filters which can be used, but which do not always adequately filter out violent acts. Always be cautious of allowing children to play games which link them to the online gaming world where they may interact with adult gamers. For more information on cyberbullying, see the Peaceful Schools resource in this series. It is worthwhile to note that the killers in tragedies such as the Navy Yard shooting, Newtown and Columbine were violent video game players; though there is no direct causation, it is most disturbing when real-life tragedies so closely mirror virtual fantasy entertainment.[13] The US military uses video games, especially first-person shooting games, as training and recruitment tools.[14] The following is a non-exhaustive list of video games which are considered violent and should be avoided by children: Grand Theft Autos, Halos, Mortal Kombat, Castlevania, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty. Parents should review the video games their children encounter, and consider whether they are suitable.

Music: There are many popular songs and music videos about violence, revenge, and killing other people, across many genres of music. Popular music artist Rihanna, has a recent music video to her song, “B**** Better Have My Money”, which depicts hanging someone upside down, being forced underwater, hit over the head with a bottle, a variety of revenge weapons, tying someone up, drugging someone, and Rihanna covered in presumably someone else’s blood. There is a content warning and an age check on watching the YouTube video of this, yet this song has almost 25 million views and was nominated for two Teen Choice Music Awards. Many other songs suggest that violence, intimidation, and threats are proper ways to deal with pain or conflict, promoting a casual and common disregard for the value of human life. Thankfully, many artists have used music as a medium to speak against violence and advocate for peace. Physicians for Global Survival has complied suggestions of the best peace songs of all time- they can be found here: http://pgs.ca/?page_id=6103.

 

MONITORING MEDIA EXPOSURE

Parents are not helpless in the face of media violence; there are many ways they can monitor the levels of exposure their children have to media violence. Some parents choose to not have televisions in their homes, or to keep televisions in a central family area where they can monitor what their children view. It is a wise idea to place daily limits on the use of TV, video games, or other sorts of media-based entertainment and to give children opportunities to think of other activities for the family to do together instead. People can choose not to purchase games or videos which feature violence, and can ask their relatives to refrain from purchasing these items for their children.[15] There are a variety of parental controls and filters which can be placed on TV programming, video games, and the internet to prevent violent content from being viewed. Why is it that parents carefully monitor the food their children eat to ensure a healthy diet, yet relinquish control of what goes into their children’s minds and moral structures?

TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT WHAT THEY SEE

When children are exposed to a frightening or violent image or narrative in the media, it is important to talk with them. As a parent or adult, it is important to share calm, unequivocal, limited information, being truthful but appropriate to the child’s age and level of understanding. Talk about human worth and reasons for behaviour, rather than allowing children to accept the script that mass violence can be solved with high tech weaponry. Ensure children know that they can talk about their feelings, and have discussions about how they are being kept safe and protected, so as not to grow up with an extreme fear of the world. [16] In order for parents and educators to be able to effectively talk to children about what they are viewing, it is vital for adults to be informed on children’s media and entertainment viewing habits.

 

RESOURCES FOR PARENTS

These websites provide reviews on TV shows, movies, video games, and music, specifically indicating content such as violence, profanity, sex, and drugs. These are good resources to help parents know what their children are watching, and to be able to have discussions around media and violence.

 

RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS AND PARENTS REGARDING MEDIA VIOLENCE

Advice on media regulation: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_habits.html?tracking=P_RelatedArticle#

Resources, tips, and curriculum: http://mediasmarts.ca/

Information and tips: http://www.pamv.net/

Alternatives to violent games: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/24-video-games-you-can-say-yes-to-after-school

Resources and curriculum: http://www.medialit.org/educator-resources

 

ENDNOTES

  1. Anderson, C., Carnagey, N., Flanagan, M., Behamin, A., Eubanks, J., Valentine, J. (2004). Violent video games: Specific effects of violent content on aggressive thoughts and behaviour. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 36:199-249. Retrieved from http://www.thepci.org/articles/Media_Violence_Research.pdf
  2. Anderson et al. (2004).
  3. Kline, S. & Stewart, K. (2004). The culture of violence and the politics of hope: Community mobilization around media risks. Humanitas Spring 2004:14-20. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/humanitas/index.php/humanities/article/viewFile/96/95
  4. Television Bureau of Canada. (2015). TVBasics 2014-2015. Retrieved from http://www.tvb.ca/page_files/pdf/infocentre/tvbasics.pdf
  5. Television Bureau of Canada. (2015).
  6. Gosselin, A., DeGuise, J., Pacquette, G. & Benoit, L. 1997. “Violence on Canadian Television and Some of Its Cognitive Effects.”Canadian Journal of Communication 22(2). http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/992/898
  7. Shanahan , K., Hermans, C., & Hyman, M. 2003. “Violent Commercials in Television Programs for Children.” Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising 25(1): 61-69. doi:10.1080/10641734.2003.10505141
  8. Federman J, ed. (1998). National Television Violence Study. Vol 3. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
  9. Yokota, F. & Thompson, K. (2000). Violence in G-Rated Animated Films. JAMA 283(20):2716-2720. doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2716.
  10. Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., MacGill, A., Evans, C., Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, Video Games and Civics. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2008/09/16/teens-video-games-and-civics/
  11. Lenhart, A. et al. (2008).
  12. Lenhart, A. et al. (2008).
  13. Media Violence Resource Center. (2015). Mass Tragedies. Accessed September 2. Retrieved from http://mediaviolence.org/for-public-health-officials/mass-tragedies/
  14. Vargas, J. A. (2006). “Virtual Reality Prepares Soldiers for Real War.” Washington Post, Feb 14. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/13/AR2006021302437.html
  15. Parents Against Media Violence. http://www.pamv.net/
  16. Dowshen, S. (2015). School Violence and the News. The Nemours Foundation. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/school_violence.html#cat145