Get the latest in kids’ media, tech, and news right to your inbox
Follow Common Sense
Tips on How to Deal with Media Violence
Violence. It's literally everywhere: in video games, movies, books, music videos, and cartoons, on the nightly news and the Web, and even in commercials. And it's becoming harder to avoid. Today, with the explosion of technology and 24/7 media access, the question more than ever is, what's the impact, especially on our kids?
The short answer is: We don't know. Although experts agree that no 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.
Heavy exposure to violent media can lead to desensitization, too. And it may actually start with parents. A study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that parents who watched a lot of movies were more likely to say it was OK for younger kids to watch movies that had R-rated violence and sexual content.
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. The number one influence on kids' media consumption is how their parents think and act regarding media. There are so many 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 them avoid iffy stuff.
So how can you as a parent manage media violence in your kids' lives?
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, and 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 they spend 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 also is violence. Teach kids how to use their words responsibly to stand up for themselves -- and others -- without throwing a punch.
- Know your kids' media. Check out ratings, and, when there are none, find out about content. For example, 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.
- Keep an eye on interactive media violence. There's no way to accurately measure whether there's more or less violence than in the past, but the pervasiveness of it in interactive forms, such as social media, online videos, and video games, is relatively new.
Advice by age
- Two- 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.
- Eight- to 10-year-olds can handle action-hero sword fighting or gunplay so long as there's no gore.
- For 11- to 12-year-olds, historical action -- battles, fantasy clashes, and duels -- is OK. But closeups of gore or graphic violence (alone or combined with sexual situations or racial stereotypes) aren't recommended.
- Kids age 13 to 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 the time they're exposed 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, affects 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.