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Media Violence Good For Children?

For years, parents have been told that fantasy violence seen in movies, televison shows and video games can negatively affect children in real life.

Author, journalist, and former comic writer Gerard Jones is now challenging the conventional wisdom in his book, “Kiling Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence.”

Jones tells The Early Show that violent media may not hurt children, but also, in many cases, it helps them. Dr. David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, disagrees. He says that while there may be some merit to the concept, it doesn't play out in the real world.

This past holiday season, The New York Times reported the rise in consumption of violent fantasy toys, such as G.I. Joes and toy guns, in the wake of 9/11. Many parents who previously wouldn't allow their children to play with guns and soldiers have given in to their children's natural desires for these toys.

Children choose their heroes more carefully than most think. From Pokémon to the rapper Eminem, pop culture icons are not simply commercial pied pipers who practice mass hypnosis on our youth. Indeed, argues Jones, even trashy or violent entertainment plays an essential role in the healthy development of children. Rather than dismissing action heroes and video games, Jones calls for parents, teachers, and everyone else who cares about the next generation to learn why this entertainment holds such enormous appeal and how they can help children develop naturally.

Jones argues that young people love fantasy violence not because the media indoctrinates them, but because it gives them coping skills they desperately need. Jones believes these fantasies teach our kids to trust their own emotions, build stronger selves, and withstand the pressures of pop culture.

In his book, Jones says explosive entertainment should be a family affair and scary TV shows can have a bad effect when children aren't able to discuss them openly with adults. What excites kids is usually a sign of what they need emotionally.

Dr. Walsh and numerous prominent medical groups believe violence in media does not help children but harm them. These groups believe media violence leads to the following:

  • Children will increase anti-social and aggressive behavior.
  • Children may become less sensitive to violence and those who suffer from violence.
  • Children may view the world as violent and mean, becoming more fearful of being a victim of violence.
  • Children will desire to see more violence in entertainment and real life.
  • Children will view violence as an acceptable way to settle conflicts

(Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000)

Fast Facts

  • According to parents in the Media in the Home 2000 study, children spend 6 1/2 hours with media every day (Woodard, 2000)
  • By the time a child is eighteen years old, he or she will witness on television (with average viewing time) 200,000 acts of violence including 40,000 murders (Hustonl, 1992)
  • 61 percent of television programs contain some violence (Smith and Donnerstein 1998)
  • 43 percent of violent scenes contain humor (Smith and Donnerstein 1998)
  • Perpetrators of violence were depicted as attractive, 44 percent of the time (Smith and Donnerstein 1998)
  • No immediate punishment was depicted in nearly 75 percent of the violent scenes (Smith and Donnerstein 1998)
  • Many of the violent scenes depicted no harmful consequences (Smith and Donnerstein 1998)
  • Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 studies have been done on the effects of violence in television and movies. The majority of these studies conclude that: children who watch significant amounts of television and movie violence are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, attitudes and values (Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1999).
  • Children are affected at any age, but young children are most vulnerable to the effects of media violence. Young children:
    1. Are more easily impressionable.
    2. Have a harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
    3. Cannot easily discern motives for violence.
    4. Learn by observing and imitating.
  • Young children who see media violence have a greater chance of exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior later in life, than children who have not seen violent media (Congressional Public Health Summit, 2000).
  • Studies show that when children and young adults play violent video games their aggressive behavior increases (Anderson and Bushman, 2001).
  • 60-90 percent of the most popular video games have violent themes (Anderson, 2001)
  • 59 percent of fourth grade girls and 73 percent of fourth grade boys say that the majority of their favorite video games are violent (Anderson, 2001).
  • Violence (homicide, suicide, and trauma) is a leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults, more prevalent than disease, cancer or congenital disorders (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2001).
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