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Why is it important for kids to see consequences in movies?

Topics: Screen Time

Most parents sense that it's better for kids to see bad deeds punished rather than watch characters get off scot-free. Your instincts are right, whether you have little kids who imitate behaviors they see in movies or older kids who may be testing their own limits. But why?

Research has found that kids are more likely to imitate behaviors they see rewarded versus those that are punished. The same is true for behaviors where they see no consequences, because the lack of punishment (say, for hitting someone) is a kind of reward in itself. This imitation can happen through movies and other media, the same as it does through real life. And the more a kid identifies with a character, the greater the impulse to imitate.

For little kids who aren't yet able to understand abstract ideas, consequences need to be simple to be effective (such as how sharing with a friend makes her more likely to share with you).

As kids get older, their ability to wrestle with conflicting ideas -- and less clear-cut consequences -- matures. But it's still important for tweens and teens to see the consequences of truly risky behavior -- for example, drug use, aggression, and sex -- because of how these issues relate to their lives. Tweens and teens are much more likely to absorb messages when they can see themselves in the characters. Older kids tend to appreciate a light touch with any media that has a message, because it helps them protect their independence.

Parents play an important role in helping kids understand the behavior they see on-screen. In the absence of parental support, kids who consume a lot of age-inappropriate media that portrays characters getting away with antisocial behavior -- such as aggression toward women or other types of violence -- may begin to believe such antiheroes are justified in their actions.

Whatever age your kid, co-viewing offers a great chance to talk about issues and share your values. Discussing characters' actions, how they achieve their aims, and what the consequences are can have a significant impact on what a kid takes away from the experience.

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