How violence in media affects children's behavior - Evergreen Psychotherapy Center (2023)

For decades, anecdotal and scientific research has shown the harmful effects to children of television, movie and video game violence. The four main effects are aggression, desensitization, fear and negative messages (Murray 2000).

Consider these troubling realities:

The average American child spends three to five hours of each day watching television. That’s 1,500 hours per year in front of the TV compared to only about 900 hours in school.

Children’s TV shows contain about 25 violent acts per hour. That means they see about 10,000 violent acts per year. The average child sees 8,000 murders by the end of elementary school and 200,000 acts of violence by age 18.

More than 60 percent of TV programs contain violence. Seventy-five percent of violent scenes show no punishment for, or condemnation of, violence.

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Psychologist Albert Bandura conducted the first research linking media violence with childhood aggression in 1961. He suggested children learn through modeling — meaning they imitate the actions of others, especially adults. His experiments involved children watching a movie of adults and interacting with a large plastic doll that bounced back when hit or pushed. The children who watched the adults being aggressive with the toy figure were more likely to be aggressive with other children during playtime. Subsequent studies have found preschoolers who watch violent cartoons are more likely to hit playmates and to disobey teachers than children exposed to nonviolent shows.

Research also has found associations between childhood exposure to violent media and an array of problems in adulthood. For example, men who were “heavy viewers” of TV violence as children were twice as likely to physically abuse their spouses, compared to those who watched less violence as children. The results are similar for women (Levy and Orlans 2000).


Children who witness considerable media violence can become desensitized — or less shocked by violence, less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and less likely to show empathy for victims of violence.

Violent media — and specifically violent video games — desensitize children. Many popular games are even similar to modern military training techniques that desensitize soldiers to killing. For example, only about 20 percent of soldiers in World War II actually were able to shoot the enemy. However, during the Vietnam War, 90 percent of soldiers could shoot and kill without hesitation. The change was attributed to new training procedures that included having soldiers practice shooting human-shaped figures rather than bulls-eyes (Grossman and Siddle, 1999). Lifelike video game violence desensitizes children in the same way, and leads to automaticity — or the learning of a behavior to the point that it becomes reflexive.


Fear is another result of media violence. Children and adults can become anxious and even traumatized by the violence they see on TV and in movies. Remember the film “Jaws?” Were you afraid to swim in the ocean afterwards?

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Media violence gives children the message that aggression and violence are acceptable solutions to conflicts and problems. In many homes, children identify with TV, movie and video game characters and look to them as heroes, role models and parent figures. A three-year study sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and published in 1995 had alarming findings about how violence is portrayed:

  • Almost half of violent scenes on TV involved attractive, hero-type characters worthy of emulation. 70 percent of those characters showed no remorse;
  • 50 percent of violent scenes showed victims without any pain, and
  • 40 percent of all violence was combined with humor.

The message is that violence is painless and a desirable problem-solving tool. Again, the negative effects of media violence are multiplied for children with frightening and traumatic backgrounds. Their anger, fear and lack of self-control are easily triggered.

Why storytelling is better than media

Telling children stories has been part of our heritage since time immortal. Storytelling is still the way primitive creatures pass on the history, traditions and meaning of their culture. Children naturally love to listen, and are captivated by every word of a good story or fairytale. The story causes the child to turn inside and create mental pictures to correspond with the spoken words. The internal imaging stimulates the child’s brain, and is the foundation for the development of symbolic thought (how we picture things). Exposure to storytelling, reading materials, and conversations form the foundation for a young child’s literacy.

Television presents both a verbal and visual image at the same time. Nothing is left to the imagination. The child is deprived of the self-generated imaging required by his developing brain. Without adequate stimulation, the brain does not make new connections. To put it simply, watching television doesn’t challenge the brain; it actually pacifies the brain and puts it to sleep. The child’s television-induced stupor puts his brain on autopilot and impedes the development of imagination.

Unimaginative children are more prone to violence, partly because they have difficulty imagining creative alternatives to their problems.

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Tips to help parents make entertainment choices for their children

Monitor viewing. Limit the amount of time a child watches television or other media, and limit the type of exposure.

Set location for TVs and computers. Screens, televisions, computers and any other mobile devices should be in areas of the house where parents can supervise, monitor and engage with their children as they engage with media. Screens and devices should not be in bedrooms.

Encourage reading. Children watch less television when they read more. And good readers are also more likely to watch educational programs when they do consume media.

Provide guidance. Parents should watch programs with their children to foster communication and reinforce positive messages. Parents can also buffer negative messages and put them in appropriate contexts.

Set age limits. Do not allow children under age 2 to watch television because it may hamper language development and social interaction.

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Limit commercials. Use streaming media services, videos and public television channels to reduce exposure to marketing messages and advertising.

Parents share ideas

Writing to us through Facebook, Adrianne Sylvester shared this:

“Over the summer, we started a new routine. Screen time of any sort is conditional on the kids’ morning “room check”: clean their rooms, make beds, bring laundry to me on laundry day, complete a daily chore, read 30 minutes and then write a couple sentences about what they read. Now that school is back in session, the reading has gotten pushed back to the evenings, and weekends for chores.

“Then they are allowed tv, video games, Fire tablets, Chromebook. I keep all devices in my room to charge at night. Everything has parental controls, they don’t have YouTube on their tablets…only my middle schooler has access to YouTube, and I check what he’s watching regularly.

“Before dinner each night, they’re expected to do another cleanup of toys, and put away laundry if it’s their day. If they didn’t do what they were supposed to, they lose screen privileges for the next day.

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“As long as I stick to enforcing this system, it works really well! My kids also have a good sense about why we don’t watch or play violent things, and know that some content is simply inappropriate for any age. If they accidentally turn on something, they’ll turn it off right away. So far so good!”

Rose Williams wrote: “I have Parental Restrictions on all devices. I stop and check in on what is being viewed. Summer and weekends…tech time was more abundant. School days..1/2 hour…if school work and homework completed.”


How does media violence affect children's behavior? ›

Research has associated exposure to media violence with a variety of physical and mental health problems for children and adolescents, including aggressive and violent behavior, bullying, desensitization to violence, fear, depression, nightmares, and sleep disturbances.

How does violence in the media affect behavior? ›

Research shows that fictional television and film violence contribute to both a short-term and a long-term increase in aggression and violence in young viewers. Television news violence also contributes to increased violence, principally in the form of imitative suicides and acts of aggression.

How does television violence affect children's behavior essay? ›

Psychological research has shown three major effects of seeing violence on television: Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, more fearful of the world around them, and may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others (A.P.A., par. 2).

What is media violence PDF? ›

Media violence exposure is linked with physically hurting others, using words to hurt others, and deliberately damaging the relationships of others. Links have been found between violent media exposure and "real-world" violent behaviors such as assault, intimate partner violence, robbery, and gang fighting.

How does media affect our behavior? ›

There are two main theoretical explanations for why media can influence people's behaviour. First of all, it can change their beliefs by providing relevant information. Second, it can have a direct effect on behaviour, independently of people's information, through persuasion (see DellaVigna and Gentzkow 2010).

How does social media affect children's behavior? ›

We found that the effects range from spending increasing amounts of time online, behaviour change due to anticipated judgement from peers, and sensory overload, to more serious cognitive and emotional consequences such as attention problems, stress and anxiety.

What are examples of media violence? ›

Examples of violence in media could include anything from depictions of children being violent with their toys to gun fights. Studies have found that children will act more aggressively after viewing either level of media violence.

How can we stop the influence of media on violence? ›

Here are five ideas.
  1. Reduce exposure to media violence. ...
  2. Change the impact of violent images that are seen. ...
  3. Locate and explore alternatives to media that solve conflicts with violence. ...
  4. Talk with other parents. ...
  5. Get involved in the national debate over media violence.

How can we reduce media violence? ›

What Parents Can Do About TV Violence
  1. Be alert to the shows your children see. ...
  2. Avoid using television, videos, or video games as a babysitter. ...
  3. Limit the use of television to no more than one or two quality hours per day. ...
  4. Keep televisions and VCRs out of your children's bedrooms. ...
  5. Turn off the television during mealtimes.

What are the four effects of television violence? ›

The author briefly defines four harmful effects produced by television violence: an aggressor effect, a victim effect, a bystander effect, and a self- socialization effect.

How does television content impact children's behavior? ›

Too much screen time can also take away from reading, studying, learning activities, play, and exercise. Digital media can also show alcohol and drug use, smoking, and sexual behavior. Your child may see these things before they are emotionally ready to understand these issues. And before they can make good decisions.

Does violence in media cause violent behavior? ›

Research by psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann, Leonard Eron, and others starting in the 1980s found that children who watched many hours of violence on television when they were in elementary school tended to show higher levels of aggressive behavior when they became teenagers.

What are 3 causes of violence? ›

The causes of violence are multiple. The psychological literature usually divides these causes into four highly overlapping categories: (1) biological, (2) socialization, (3) cognitive, and (4) situational factors.

What are the 4 main types of violence? ›

By looking more closely at the nature of acts of violence, these three categories can be further divided into four, more specific, types of violence:
  • Physical violence.
  • Sexual violence.
  • Psychological violence.
  • Neglect.

What is violence Short answer? ›

Violence is often understood as the use or threat of force that can result in injury, harm, deprivation or even death. It may be physical, verbal or psychological.

What are the 5 media effects? ›

These six are cognition, belief, attitude, affect, physiology, and behavior. All individual-level media effects studies examine how the media exert an influence on one or more of these six types.

What are the 3 types of media effects? ›

Lesson Summary
  • The direct effects theory, in which the media has direct effects and is responsible for society's ills.
  • The indirect effects theory, in which media exposure affects people in different ways.
  • The agenda-setting theory, in which the media determines what is important.
29 Oct 2021

How does social media affect the behavior? ›

Social media affects behavior negatively by depriving kids of important social cues they would usually learn through in-person communication. This can cause them to be more callous, anxious, and insecure. Social media affects social skills by replacing some of kids' direct contact with their peers.

What are the negative effects of social media in the behavior of students? ›

However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.

Why social media is harmful for kids? ›

Social media can also pose risks. For your child, these risks include: being exposed to inappropriate or upsetting content, like mean aggressive, violent or sexual comments or images. uploading inappropriate content, like embarrassing or provocative photos or videos of themselves or others.

What are the negative effects of media? ›

Why limit media use?
  • Not enough sleep. Media use can interfere with sleep. ...
  • Obesity. ...
  • Delays in learning & social skills. ...
  • Negative effect on school performance. ...
  • Behavior problems. ...
  • Problematic internet use. ...
  • Risky behaviors. ...
  • Sexting, loss of privacy & predators.
20 Jul 2022

How Does violent media affect the brain? ›

There were visible alterations in MRI brain scans after only one week of playing a violent video game. In particular, there was a significant decrease in the activation of prefrontal portions of the brain and a greater activation of the amygdala.

What are 4 examples of media? ›

Modern media comes in many different formats, including print media (books, magazines, newspapers), television, movies, video games, music, cell phones, various kinds of software, and the Internet.

How does violence in the media affect the brain? ›

To date, neuroimaging research suggests that increased exposure to violent media content is associated with lower prefrontal control of emotions or behaviors and with delayed development of frontal or frontoparietal regions.

What are 5 effects of violence? ›

Consequences include increased incidences of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide; increased risk of cardiovascular disease; and premature mortality. The health consequences of violence vary with the age and sex of the victim as well as the form of violence.

How do you talk to children about violence in the media? ›

Here are some ideas for those conversations.
  1. Help your kids express their feelings. ...
  2. Help your kids tap into feelings of empathy. ...
  3. Remind them that real violence isn't a joke. ...
  4. Teach positive conflict resolution. ...
  5. Explain consequences.
4 Jun 2020

What is the meaning of media violence? ›

Most researchers define media violence as visual portrayals of acts of physical aggression by one human or human-like character against another.

How can we reduce violence against children? ›

Ten Things You Can Do to Prevent Child Abuse
  1. Volunteer your time. Get involved with other parents in your community. ...
  2. Discipline your children thoughtfully. ...
  3. Examine your behavior. ...
  4. Educate yourself and others. ...
  5. Teach children their rights. ...
  6. Support prevention programs. ...
  7. Know what child abuse is. ...
  8. Know the signs.

How does social media contribute to violence? ›

Meta-analyses of the unhealthy effects of media-violence have shown that youth who view media-violence on a regular basis are more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior, ranging from imitative violent behavior with toys to criminal violence, acceptance of violent behavior, increased feelings of hostility, and ...

How does violence on television affect children? ›

Extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness. Sometimes, watching a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see.

What are types of violence? ›

  • Physical Violence. Physical violence occurs when someone uses a part of their body or an object to control a person's actions.
  • Sexual Violence. ...
  • Emotional Violence. ...
  • Psychological Violence. ...
  • Spiritual Violence. ...
  • Cultural Violence. ...
  • Verbal Abuse. ...
  • Financial Abuse.

What happens when kids watch violent TV? ›

Studies show extensive viewing of television violence may cause children to become more aggressive and anxious. Children who watch many hours a week of violent TV may become inured to violence and begin to see the world as a scary and unsafe place. As a parent, you are your child's first line of defense.

How does media affect child development? ›

High media usage in children is related to poorer cognition, language, and social–emotional skills. More frequent parent–child interactions are associated with better body motor, cognition, language, and social–emotional skills in children.

What are the positive and negative effects of television on children? ›

Some positive effects are: it enhances learning skills and recognize emotions; and the negative effects are it leads to violence, behave aggressively and lastly, it leads to emotional problems.

What type of impact does television have on children's development? ›

Early television watching can endanger healthy development.

Early exposure to TV has also been connected to attention disorders and sleep problems. TV use at age three has been linked to behavior problems and to long-term effects on social development, classroom engagement, and academic achievement.

What factors influence violent behavior? ›

Individual Risk Factors
  • History of violent victimization.
  • Attention deficits, hyperactivity, or learning disorders.
  • History of early aggressive behavior.
  • Involvement with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
  • Low IQ.
  • Poor behavioral control.
  • Deficits in social cognitive or information-processing abilities.
  • High emotional distress.

Is violent media good for kids? ›

But research shows that viewing (or playing) violent content could increase the chance that a child will act aggressively -- especially if other risk factors are present, such as growing up in a violent home. Heavy exposure to violent media can lead to desensitization too.

What are the theories of media violence? ›

Social cognitive theory

It is theorized that with repeated exposure to media violence, a psychological saturation or emotional adjustment takes place such that initial levels of anxiety and disgust diminish or weaken.

What are the 5 main types of violence? ›

Using these as a basis, we shall distinguish five inter-related types of violence:
  • physical violence.
  • verbal violence (including hate speech)
  • psychological violence.
  • sexual violence.
  • socio-economic violence.

What is the most common type of violence? ›

Domestic violence

It encompasses all physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This is one of the most common forms of violence experienced by women globally.

Why we should stop violence? ›

Violence has lifelong consequences.

Toxic stress associated with repeated exposure to violence in early childhood can interfere with healthy brain development, and can lead to aggressive and anti-social behaviours, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour and criminal activity.

What is the main cause of violence? ›

Conventionally, violence is understood to be often driven by negative emotions, such as anger or fear. For example, a person might become aggressive because they were enraged at another person, or they were afraid the other person might hurt them.

What are the causes and effects of violence? ›

Those who experience or witness violence may develop a variety of problems, including anxiety, depression, insecurity, anger, poor anger management, poor social skills, pathological lying, manipulative behaviour, impulsiveness, and lack of empathy.

What are 2 forms of violence and give an example? ›

Different Types of Violence
  • Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc. ...
  • Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. ...
  • Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem.

What are the 4 most common causes of violence? ›

Other factors which can be causes of violence include:

Having low self-worth. Experiencing abuse or neglect. Witnessing violence in the home, community, or medias. Access to weapons.

What are three negative effects of violence? ›

In a community, violence can cause: the cycle of violence to continue into new generations. the continued false belief that men are better than women. everyone's quality of life to suffer because women take part less in their communities when they are silenced or killed by the violence.

What are some words to describe violence? ›

  • brutal.
  • crazy.
  • cruel.
  • fierce.
  • homicidal.
  • hysterical.
  • murderous.
  • passionate.

How does media influence us for kids? ›

Research studies have identified the following domains of influence in which media content has been shown to have negative effects on children: violence and aggressive behavior, sexual content, body image and self-esteem, and physical health and school performance.

How does media influence deviant behavior? ›

The mass media have altered public perceptions about deviance, social problems, and especially crime, by stressing the most dramatic, vivid, and memorable instances as typical or characteristic of the category as a whole for instance, by depicting the most violent incidents as typical of criminal behavior in general.

What is one of the main effects on children of violence in the media quizlet? ›

Most prevalent effect is IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR. Children are especially prone to imitate violent behavior when they watch it on TV. The first content analyses of prime-time television programs were conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

How can we prevent media influence on children? ›

Limit younger children's exposure to PG-13 and R-rated movies. Watch media with your children and adolescents and discuss the content. Encourage non-media activities, and limit media time to two hours per day.

What are the main effects of media? ›

Two core effects of media are common today: the boomerang effect and the reciprocal effect. A boomerang effect has a direct boomerang effect based on a particular media's message. A reciprocal effect refers to the effects of past and anticipated media coverage on the subject of a news story.

How does media influence affect and control us? ›

The influence of mass media or 'The media effect' affects many aspects of human life, which can include voting a certain way, individual views and beliefs, or skewing a person's knowledge of a specific topic due to being provided false information.

What are 3 deviant examples? ›

Adult content consumption, drug use, excessive drinking, illegal hunting, eating disorders, or any self-harming or addictive practice are all examples of deviant behaviors.

What are the 4 types of deviant behavior? ›

According to Merton, there are five types of deviance based upon these criteria: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. Structural functionalism argues that deviant behavior plays an active, constructive role in society by ultimately helping cohere different populations within a society.

How does media influence juvenile delinquency? ›

Media influences delinquency

Content risks are those risks emanating from a situation where a child is exposed to unwelcome and inappropriate content such as sexual, pornographic and violent images, some forms of advertising and the advocacy of unhealthy, dangerous behaviours such as self-harm, suicide.

What effect does violent media have on aggression quizlet? ›

(3) Violent media activates aggressive thoughts, feelings, and self-concepts ( priming process) violent media activates these things and lowers the threshhold for using them to interprete social information.

What are signs of irrational behavior workplace violence? ›

Fascinated with incidents of workplace violence. Shows an extreme interest in, or obsession with, weapons.
  • States intention to hurt someone (can be verbal or written).
  • Holds grudges.
  • Excessive behaviour (e.g. phone calls, gift giving).
  • Escalating threats that appears well-planned.
  • Preoccupation with violence.


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