small child watching tv

Clinically Edited & Approved by: Angela Hamm, NP-BC

How Visual Media Affects Children

If you’ve ever left a superhero movie feeling inspired, cried during your favorite network drama, or felt moved to act by a documentary, you know that the media you consume can have a powerful effect on your feelings. As such, it stands to reason that television and movies can change the moods of children as well. Because children are still developing, visual media can affect them more than adults.

Young children do not yet have the mental capacity to separate fiction from real life. Furthermore, they do not have the skills they need to identify their feelings, process them, and regulate their feelings. Even in adolescence, when teens know what they see is fiction, their young minds can change due to the visual media they consume.

Knowing these things, parents may question if watching television and movies will cause their children to act out in violence. The answer depends on factors such as the child’s age and the type of programming they watch.

Does Violent Media Cause Violence in Children?

Almost since the beginning of television, parents have worried about how the medium affects children. Specifically, people wondered if violent scenes could cause children and teens to act out in aggression. In response to this public concern, researchers have completed plenty of studies on this subject.

Overwhelmingly, scientists find that early exposure to violence in television and film can cause children to become aggressive in adulthood. It’s important to note that not every child that sees a violent scene in a movie will become an aggressive adult. However, some studies suggest that the link is as strong as the one between smoking and lung cancer.

How does this happen? Researchers hold several theories on the reasons children who watch violent television tend to be more aggressive. The reasons seem to be a mix of the following factors:

  • Young children have a hard time separating fiction and real life
  • Repeated exposure numbs children to gore and violence
  • They see heroes solve issues with violence and imitate these actions

Each child is unique and so are their reactions to different media. Some kids feel anxious after seeing gore on their screens and may lash out as a reaction to that fear. Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect your children from violence on television.

What Parents Can Do

The link between violence in media and aggressive behavior in children is so clear that the American Academy of Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatry has set guidelines for parents to follow:

  • Know what your children watch and the games they play. Either monitor the content with parental management systems or consume the media with them.
  • Do not put televisions and video games systems in child bedrooms.
  • Stand your ground when you refuse to let them watch violent shows or play inappropriate games.
  • Discuss why certain content is not appropriate and offer alternatives.
  • Talk to other parents to remove peer pressure and keep kids safe when they visit friends.
  • If your child happens upon violent content, have a discussion about what they saw and why it isn’t ok to imitate it.

Despite parents’ best efforts, some children struggle with aggression. The professionals at LifeStance Health can help children learn healthier coping mechanisms and channel their anger.

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