Making Sense

Impact of Media Violence Tips

Find out how media violence impacts kids, and get tips on choosing quality, age-appropriate media.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Violence in the media
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Media violence does affect kids

It's in video games, movies, books, music videos, cartoons, the nightly news, on the web and even in commercials. Violence is literally everywhere in media. And it's becoming harder to avoid. Today, with the explosion of technology and the 24/7 media access that comes along with it, the question more than ever is what's the impact, especially on our kids?

The short answer is: We don't know. Research on the amount of violence in media consumed by kids and teens is out of date and incomplete. Past research estimates that about 90% of movies, 68% of video games, 60% of TV shows, and 15% of music videos include some depictions of violence.

What we do know, however, is that media violence is pervasive. And kids are exposed to it a lot of it. In fact, a recent study found that kids as young as 8 are spending nearly 7.5 hours with media every day. That's more time than they spend with their families or in school.

While experts agree that no one single factor can cause a nonviolent person to act aggressively, heavy exposure to violent media can be a risk factor for violent behavior. Children who are exposed to multiple risk factors -- including aggression and conflict at home -- are the most likely to behave aggressively.

The good news is that, as parents, we can make a choice to consistently expose our kids to media that reflects our own personal values and say "no" to the stuff that doesn't. There are so many great benefits to media and technology, including the potential to teach valuable skills. Doing research about TV shows, movies, or games before your kids watch, play, and interact with them will go a long way in helping kids avoid the bad stuff.

So how can you as a parent manage media violence in your kids' life? 

Tips for parents of all kids

  • Explain consequences. What parent hasn't heard "but there's no blood" as an excuse for watching a movie or playing a video game? Explain the true consequences of violence. Point out how unrealistic it is for people to get away with violent behavior.
  • Keep an eye on the clock. Don't let kids spend too long with virtual violence. The more time spent immersed in violent content, the greater its impact and influence.
  • Teach conflict resolution. Most kids know that hitting someone on the head isn't the way to solve a disagreement, but verbal cruelty is also violent. Teach kids how to use their words responsibly to stand up for themselves without throwing a punch.
  • Know your kids' media. Check out ratings and, when there are none, find out about content. Content in a 1992 R-rated movie is now acceptable for a PG-13. Streaming online videos aren't rated and can showcase very brutal stuff.

Advice by age

  • 2- to 4-year-old kids often see cartoon violence. But keep them away from anything that shows physical aggression as a means of conflict resolution, because they'll imitate what they see.
  • For 5- to 7-year-olds, cartoon rough-and-tumble, slapstick, and fantasy violence are OK, but violence that could result in death or serious injury is too scary.
  • 8- to 10-year-olds can handle action-hero sword fighting or gunplay as long as there's no gore.
  • For 11- to 12-year-olds, historical action is OK, including battles, fantasy clashes, and duels. But close-ups of gore or graphic violence (alone or combined with sexual situations) aren't recommended.
  • Kids ages 13-17 can and will see shoot-'em-ups, blow-'em-ups, high-tech violence, accidents with disfigurement or death, anger, and gang fighting. Point out that the violence portrayed hurts and causes suffering. And limit time exposure to violence, especially in video games.
  • Most M-rated games aren't right for kids under 17. The kid down the street may have the latest cop-killer game, but that doesn't mean it's good for him. The ultra-violent behavior, often combined with sexual images, isn't good for developing brains. Just because your child's friend is allowed to play violent games or watch violent movies doesn't mean they're OK for your child.
How can I explain the difference between fantasy and reality to a 4-year-old?

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for... Read more

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Comments (49)

I feel media violence is affecting the kids more than ever and being able to distinguish fantasy violence from the real kind starting at an early age should have a more positive impact on their lives.
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Parents, educators, babysitters, etc. need to educate themselves on the affects violence has on children. Being familiar with studies has shown that children who grow up in violence and watch violence, will most likely be aggressive and participate in violence as a child, teen, and adult. This blog contains great parenting tips and easy steps to take in preventing our children from being apart of violent acts.
I think this is right. I watched the matrix when I was 9 and it was scary for me. I have playedGTA and that game is crazy and it sucks. Drugs shooting
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Ok. So Im a girl and I play violent games like Call Of Duty but its not like I've ever had the urge to shoot someone in real life. You can't blame careless mean people who effect the way you feel and saying that its videogames when it could just be some careless mean stranger. I'm pretty sure, violent video games or not, you probably wanted to slap someone sometime in your life.
Thank you - this is an excellent video and article. It amazes me that no one paid attention to the serious effects of violence back in the 1970's. Lt. Dave Grossman, in his book "On Killing" has been sounding the alarm for over a decade. If we don't do something, he says, we'll face a tidal wave of cold hearted killers. That time is around the corner. Wake up America! Combine this understanding of Violence with Sexuality and you have what is called "Eroticized Rage." And women pay the price for Eroticized Rage. As men, we need to stand up stop this tragic trend of violence in our society. My blog discusses this at - aspencenter.org and soon to be at - sexualaddiction911.com
Wow. The fact that there are small/young children posting on this site (that it's even allowed is insane) is so very disturbing. The point being that CHILDREN are not capable of realizing long term affect on their behavior and psyche simply because they haven't been around long enough to know what long term even MEANS. PARENTS are here for a reason- to protect children from the things that they don't realize can hurt them. Like a drunk driver. Or human predators. OR desensitization to our basic primal instincts, that, by the way, changes the definition of what humanity is, and it sure isn't for the better. I wouldn't expect a child to understand that. But a parent should. A ROLE model should. Technology is an amazing and useful thing. So is a car. You gonna hand your ten year old the keys and a fifty?
Well I sometimes watch ben 10 but it only has fantasy violence but deadly dozen has some blood but I am still alloud to watch it but I don't mimic what I see on tv but one time my brother watched a violent YouTube video but now he knows what to watch and we don't watch violent YouTube videos like cupcakes (cupcakes is a violent my little pony video )
Hey I was 5 when i played Halo and i loved it but i knew that it wasn't real and that i shouldnt imitate that in real life. Plus where am i going to get a laser blaster!
Look. Violence is a bad thing. It's not the way to solve any problem. But brainwashing your kids in your image? Srsly? Taking away your child's right to play the video games they want is a violation of one of our unalienable rights, the pursuit of happiness. Take Skyrim. If your child wants to play Skyrim, let him. let him decide if he is mature enough. encourage him to tell you if he believes he can't handle it. That way the child gets his choice, and you can allow him the option of backing out. Everyone wins.
But, Nazgul, you wouldn't let your child pursue happiness if you knew it were dangerous. I'll bet 99% of the children say they are mature enough for Skyrim. Very few children would turn it down. Few children would turn down the opportunity to drive a car, or shoot a gun, or get high. Parents are dedicated to protecting their child. I agree with you when you say, encourage him to tell you... that's open communication. Good point my friend, keep the communication open and real.
Great pleasure for me to discuss this, as the case of children living in developing countries the major media we now expose to it is watching movies. Recently, I watched a movie about people fighting with swords in a sudden while I fell down with my chair because it was more fiercely than I've watched before.
Two words: Chaos Walking. Those books scared me! I mean, it's one of my favorite series, but gosh, it's gory. The worst thing I've ever seen was the first aid video in 5th grade about lacerations (cuts). The nurse was like, "Don't worry, it's makeup, " and all that, but it looked so real. One kid even passed out.
Well,a kid can play games like Driver San Francisco,Ben 10 Ultimate Alien and M games like God Of War.But,a game like MANHUNT 2;No.I know Manhunt 2 is awesome,but too VIOLENT.As for movies,I like movies like Iron Man 3,and am looking forward to see TURBO.
I Know Violence is bad. The Parents need to set the time by age. 2- 4 for 30 Minutes. 5- 7 for 1 &1/2 Hour. 8- 10 for 2 Hours. 11 & 12 for 2 &1/2 Hours. 13-17 2 &3/4 Hours. 18+ No More then 3 Hours of this. If this don't help what they see on the screen. Reduce the hours of Violence they see.
No. Incorrect. Most children are educated enough to understand what they are seeing is wrong. Yes, their time playing should be limited depending on age, but not because of violence. Back to my point. Children know what they are seeing is not acceptable. Does that mean that they are going to go out and imitate a video game? No. A video game is just that, a game! Not real life.
It is very important that we let our child knows that watching those media violence are not good for them. The tips you've provided in your articles are quite impressive. I will add those tips to my kid. -------------------------- http://www.gamescrack.org/free-xbox-live-gold/
The good news is that, as parents, we can make a choice to consistently expose our kids to media that reflects our own personal values and say "no" to the stuff that doesn't. There are so many great benefits to media and technology, including the potential to teach valuable skills.You have written good information.keep your better work here. http://www.bearyfungym.com/ children activities
Dude. I play Halo 2 and I am perfectly sane. I didn't turn into a serial killer that murders people. Chill. A little violence is not the end of the world. There is a certain term your missing: simulation. Simply put, it's a virtual replica of something. In other words, it's not real. Your kids should understand that what you see in a video game is not something you can do IRL. If they do, that means they are mature enough to handle the kind of games older kids can play because they are mentally ahead of their age.
If your child wants to play Call Of Duty Black Ops or GTA IV so much,then sit with him-do not let him play the game alone.As I say,Its rated MA-15,under 15 must be accompanied by adults.I play GTA SA and GTA IV alone because I understand about the games stuff.
yeah it's all true. kids might follow what they have seen in video games so it is important to have a parental guidance for them to explained what is going on in the video games and etc. palawan travel palawan tour package
BTW (by the way), they should be able to have ANYTHING in ADULTS ONLY VIDEOGAMES (M and AO ones), because the way I see it, adults are allowed to see whatever the heck they want.
I've once played GTA San Andreas; let me tell you that the graphic violence in it, is like shooting a restaurant's guy's head off, and there's lots and tons of blood in that scene. You can also beat up people (and I also once beat up a police officer bloody). You can also shoot people down bloodily, too, so beware for young kids and teenagers. While, UFC: Undisputed: 3, let your child play. Yes, there's a tiny bit of blood that goes onto the ring, players' faces are left bloody, there's no swearing though, but sometimes they stitch people's faces up and some aftermaths are impactful, so watch them first.
I'll open up with this: When I was very little, my mom wouldn't let me anywhere near a toy gun or sword. For a few years, it worked. Then, I visted my older cousin's house, and saw his extensive toy gun collection. The no gun rule promptly flew out the window at lightning speed. I was then exposed to the world of video games, and I've been playing them ever since. I've played games ranging from Wizard101, to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, to even inFAMOUS 2 (and, for one day at the aforementioned cousins house, spent some time going on a rampage through L.A in a GTA game). Here's the twist: I haven't felt the urge to kill, destroy, main, or otherwise injure another human being or animal. In cases like this, it's normally nature as opposed to nurture: Most of these people you hear of who do these horrible things based on games, have had something wrong with them from the beginning. Did video games exacerbate it? Possibly, yes. Are most rational beings affected by it? Not really. This doesn't mean you should let your kids play whatever, and young children playing violent games is a terrible idea. But, letting them play some games with swordplay or magic or lasers starting around age 7 probably couldn't hurt, and Wizard101 and Pirate101 are relatively safe for anyone who knows how to use a computer. Of course, as the parent you most likely are, you still hold absolute control, and what games are played should be decided by family values and parent decision. If your child wants to buy a game, do your research, and if you end up going for it, then watch them play for a while. It may help a lot.
The way I see it, there's quite a difference between real life violence and media violence. Media violence is often overblown to the point where most people can easily tell that it's nowhere close to real life (do you really think that real people pour gallons of blood from their chest when they're stabbed). Personally, I've seen the clip of Budd Dwyer shooting himself in the head during a press conference and even I was quite shocked and even typing about it now makes me uneasy. Media violence, however, doesn't creep me out at all and is actually somewhat entertaining due to how overblown and unreasonable it is. For one, after watching "The Raven," I actually rewatched a particularly violent scene several times and I've seen my fair share of horror movies with copious amounts of blood and gore ("Saw," "Candyman," and "Child's Play 2"). And again, seeing an actual death did not entertain me and actually made me very uneasy. I'm definitely not saying that you should ever expose a child to that (honestly, no one should ever have to see a real life death), but it's important to realize that there's a very real difference between the two and while I've never been in a discussion related to it, it could make for another bullet point when distinguishing the difference between violence in real life and media. Another point: I believe that the whole ordeal of blaming video games for real life violence is just a cop-out for bad parenting. Personally, I never get into violent situations despite the high amount of violent games I play. The difference is that my parents knew to tell me the consequences of violent behavior, both on Earth and when I die and go to Heaven for God to judge whether or not I deserve to be in Heaven. Even just knowing the consequences of actions can go a long way in preventing your child from taking these actions.
Finally, someone who gets what I've been trying to say. Media violence is obviously not real. It's been so blown out of proportion it's almost comical. Plus it's a simulation. At least you understand. Mayb e one day the rest of the world will.
I have recently done an analysis of media and violence for a Communications college course. The sad truth is that we may not have conclusive evidence of the prominent causes that violence in the media has on our nation, especially our children. I read so many articles claiming that it is video games, another that says it is Hollywood, another that says it is our lack in mental health funding--the one conclusion I came to is that discussion and awareness of the consequences and implications of violence start IN THE HOME. Making sure that children understand the difference between glamorized media violence with usually no consequential actions and real-life violence that hurts others is a major topic to talk with children about. I know that increasing technological freedom of our children, who may know how to navigate the Internet better or bypass blocked settings, is a difficult obstacle to overcome. However, taking the time to set boundaries and communicate the REASONS you are setting these boundaries can help to prevent later disconnections between media violence and the real thing.
I like the admission that 'we don't know' then we will tell you what we want to believe and base it all on that. We do know that there is no common standard for 'values'. Not sure how a monolithic one size fits all approach works. It is also not required to expose your kids to ANY media. That is a parenting choice. Quite possibly a bad and irresponsible one.
I like some shows with violence,such as Happy Tree Friends and The Simpsons.I'm a Christan (because I read the Bible and go to church) and I find those two shows really funny.Just because I like HTF and The Simpsons dosen't make me an athiest.I know some Christans who like HTF,and when they make fun of The Lord on The Simpsons,I just change the channel.When they stop making fun of Jesus,I change the channel back to FOX.As for M-rated video games,I choose NOT to play them.Because they're too violent.I'm quite a gamer myself,but i'm gonna choose NOT to play M-rated games.I'm a huge fan of action (I love Star Wars,Angry Birds,Ninjago,Ben 10,Pokemon,ect.) But I wouldn't exactly show them to little kids (NOTE: I'm not a parent,i'm a 21 year old male.) I remember one time,my friend who sits next to me in class (i'm a college student),let his brother (who is 6) watch a movie called Ben 10: Alien Swarm.The movie gave him nightmares.In my opinion Ben 10: Alien Swarm is an OK movie (read my review on it.)So,if I was a parent,and had a child who loves action,I would tell him not to copy what he sees of the screen!
In my opinion games like assassins creed, skyrim, and halo are ok for kids under 17 but games like cod and grand theft auto are not. Unfortunately my parents do not share my beliefs.
Assassin's Creed and HALO are M FOR MATURE rated games,so COD and GTA also are fine.I'd say games like Bully or Prince Of Persia are OK for kids under 17,the others are better with Parental guidance.
It really depends on the content of the game, there are some M rated games that are just plain ridiculous with their content, such as (DMC: Devil May Cry), which has very foul language, and graphic sexual content. Compared to M rated Dark Souls or Skyrim which has very limited or no language/sexual content. Its just about parents researching the game, or trying the game themselves first before purchasing for kids/teens.
As an adult, I choose not to play M-rated video games. It may be tempting sometimes, but it's easy to resist if you are a person who never played M-rated games, like me. And it's the same thing with R-rated movies. There are some T-rated games that I'll play and PG-13 movies that I'll watch. But when I see violence through the media, I am smart enough to know that violence isn't always the answer in reality. When I see violent content, I would never do it in real-life. That's what people these days should think: Violence in media - fun to watch, but copying what you see - severe consequences could come up on your doorstep!
As an adult, I choose not to play M-rated video games. It may be tempting sometimes, but it's easy to resist if you are a person who never played M-rated games, like me. And it's the same thing with R-rated movies. There are some T-rated games that I'll play and PG-13 movies that I'll watch. But when I see violence through the media, I am smart enough to know that violence isn't always the answer in reality. When I see violent content, I would never do it in real-life. That's what people these days should think: Violence in media - fun to watch, but copying what you see - severe consequences could come up on your doorstep!
While I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article, your comment made me consider otherwise. I don't think you should be reviewing anything...
I Would Say An M-Rated Game Like RPGs Where Your the Positive Person (Good) Instead of Being the Yucky Person (Evil): Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, Fallout (Good Karma), Dante's Inferno (Absolving Damned Souls), Diablo, Souls (Demon's Souls/DarkSouls), Halo, Fable (Being Good), CastleVania, Gears of War, Read Dead Redemption (Good Choices), L.A. Noire, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Assassin's Creed, Zelda Series, Fire Emblem,. 15-17 For M-Rated Games.
Excellent. Really good for group discussions. In the home and outside of the home. One thing that I think would be beneficial: balance the video with some video snippets that simultaneously promote encourage healthy value systems
not all M rated games are created equal. There are some I would let a 12 year old play (Mass Effect, for example), and others no one is playing in my house--"I don't care if you're 23, gruesome violence for it's own sake is not entertainment, and I will not tolerate it under my roof!"-- (I'm looking at you, Manhunt)