This year, when I asked my seven-year-old nephew what he wanted to dress as for Halloween, he immediately perked up and exclaimed, “Jason!” If you’re unfamiliar with who “Jason” is, he is the main villain in the Friday the 13th series of films. He is a man with a terrifying mask on his face, who continuously stalks and murders other characters with a giant machete. What shocked me the most about my nephew’s response (other than the fact that I was expecting him to say Ninja Turtle or a car from Transformers) was that he was genuinely excited to portray a violent horror movie character, who is a human, murdering other humans. When I was growing up, it was ghosts, witches and goblins who haunted my nightmares and inspired my costumes, but my nephew has entered into a new world of media that can deliberately show children just how horrible humans can be towards one another. Most researchers even define media violence as visual portrayals of acts of physical aggression by one human or human-like character against another (Huesmann, 2007)
Violence in media is something that will most likely never go away. If we were to limit the violence shown to us on our computers or televisions or video consoles, that would be considered downright unAmerican. My nephew has constant devices to access anything violent. He knows ways around parental controls, or he can simply grab my brothers iPad and search whatever he wants on Youtube. The access children have to media these days are surmountable compared to the access children have had in the past. Now, I’m not saying that any behavior my nephew has displayed has been worrisome in the slightest, he is a great kid, but the availability of this violent media he can assess is alarming.
Short-term exposure to violent media increases the likelihood of physically and verbally aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions. Recent large-scale longitudinal studies have shown that frequent exposure to violent media in childhood results in aggression later in life, including physical assaults and spouse abuse (Anderson et al., 2003). But, violent or aggressive actions seldom result from a single cause; rather, multiple factors converging over time contribute to such behavior. Accordingly, the influence of the violent mass media is best viewed as one of the many potential factors that influence the risk for violence and aggression. No reputable researcher is suggesting that media violence is “the” cause of violent behavior (Huesmann, 2007). Essentially, yes there is research that has proven that access to violent media can result in violent behavior later in life, but it is never the sole reason why the violence exists. Media can play a huge role in the behavior, but it is not the only reason behind it. Some studies have even focused on the impact of media violence on aggressive thinking, including beliefs and attitudes that promote aggression (Anderson et al., 2003). Violent media isn’t just influencing physical acts of violence, but it morphs the attitudes and thinking of young children.
Children have a way of emulating their experiences, what they watch, what they listen to and who they hear it from. I was a very impressionable child, who was constantly seeking understanding of the world around me. We may not be able to change the amount of violence shown in media, but we can do our part in making sure it is properly monitored for children. It’s easy to assume that parental controls will do the trick, but if a kid wants to see something, he or she will find a way. Vigilance and education are both extremely important in filtering out the beneficial media from the non-beneficial. Hopefully with enough awareness, we can keep our kids, kids, for longer, and hopefully my future child will just say “Ninja Turtle” instead of choosing a machete wielding murderer. Here’s to hoping.
Huesmann, L. R. (2007). The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research. Journal of Adolescent Health,41(6). doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.09.005
Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Huesmann, L. R., Johnson, J. D., Linz, D., . . . Wartella, E. (2003). The Influence of Media Violence on Youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest,4(3), 81-110. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2003.pspi_1433.x