Protecting children from violence in the media

Parents are increasingly aware of the harmful effects of violence in movies, television shows and computer games. Thousands of studies have investigated the effects of media violence on children, and many review papers have been written. Research has shown that children who see a lot of violence on screens are more likely to:

  • behave aggressively;
  • have aggressive thoughts and unfriendly feelings; and
  • not care about what happens to people who are victims of violence.

Though differing in focus, these conclusions are endorsed universally by many review papers (APS, 2000). A useful strategy for parents of children of all ages is to limit access, then monitor and supervise at times when children are watching television or using computer games.

It is recommended that parents:

  • Take responsibility for controlling their children’s viewing/playing habits;
  • Know what their children are watching;
  • Make rules about the programs children watch;
  • Seek out appropriate programs. Classifications can be some help in selecting programs and watching programs beforehand (not sure how you would achieve this) is useful;
  • Help children find attractive, exciting and non-violent alternative activities to watching television.Include activities that children can either do alone, with siblings, or with adults, that suit their age (such as Lego or other construction games, bike riding, dressing up and other make-believe games, ball games, listening to story audio tapes, board games);
  • Teach children how to limit their viewing and to switch the television off after a while;
  • Make sure that children understand that viewing violent or sad things can make them feel angry or sad too;
  • Use a filter or a screening program on your home computer to block entry to certain websites; and
  • Always check video/computer games before letting children play with them.

Share and discuss the programs children watch

When your children are watching television or movies, attempt to watch with them as much as possible, and encourage them to evaluate critically what they are watching. Useful questions to ask are listed below. Obviously, simpler language is necessary for younger children, but many of the questions about the consequences of the violent behaviour for the perpetrator and the victim, and alternatives to violent behaviour, can also be helpful for children as young as four or five.

  • Is the violence realistic?
  • What happens to the victim?
  • What are the consequences of behaving violently?
  • What sorts of consequences happen in real life?
  • Do people really behave like this (or is this just make believe for television/movies)?
  • Do your friends behave like this?
  • How else could the characters solve their problems?
  • Are there problems with behaving in this way?