Turn off and tune in

Protecting children from violence in the media

Protecting children from violence in the media

Last week I was asked to contribute to an item on Midlands 103 on children and TV which inspired this week’s topic.

TV is a common fixture in our everyday lives. It’s almost as if it is a part of the family. Parents are increasingly aware of the harmful effects of violence in movies, television shows and computer games.

Thousands of studies have investigated the effects, and research shows 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 victims of violence.

A useful strategy for parents of children of all ages is to limit access, then monitor and supervise while they watch television or use computer games.

Top Recommendation for 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 and computer games. Classifications can be some help in selection, watch beforehand, if possible.

Help children find attractive, exciting and non-violent alternative activities. Either to 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.

Watch with them

When your children are watching television or movies, watch with them as much as possible, and encourage them to evaluate critically what they see.

Ask questions such as the following, using simpler language for younger children.

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 act like this?

How else could the characters solve their problems?

Are there problems with behaving in this way?

Children under 2 yrs

There is little doubt that this group can be profoundly affected by the telly or even “background“ TV.

The effects of background TV on young children are more subtle, but profoundly important. Background TV disrupts children’s play. In one study, 12- to 36-month-old kids who played with toys, while their parents were in the same room and watching adult-directed programs, played for a shorter period of time than when the TV was off. In addition, children used a less sophisticated form of play when background TV was present compared to when it was not. It seems that the TV program, even though it was mostly incomprehensible and probably boring to the children, was captivating enough to repeatedly attract the children’s attention.

This may not seem especially concerning. However, play is very important to children’s development. During play, children manipulate and experiment with objects, they learn about cause and effect, and they exercise their creativity and imagination. Play also helps children’s social development, as it requires children to consider other people’s viewpoints and to practice negotiation and conflict-resolution strategies. When play sessions are very short or repeatedly interrupted, children are not able to experience the cognitive and social benefits of play as much.

Background TV is also detrimental to parent-child interaction. Not surprisingly, adults talk less to their children when the TV is on. It is difficult for adults to tune out TV and focus on their children, especially when TV content is interesting to them. Another study found that parents were less likely to interact with their infants and toddlers compared to when the TV was off. This is an important effect since healthy parent-child communication is critical to children’s development.

In particular young children’s language development can be significantly impacted, ask any speech and language therapist.

It is understandable why researchers have become increasingly interested in the effects of TV on children. One report revealed that about one third of families with young children leave the TV set on all or most of the time. We’ve allowed TV to occupy a significant position in family life. TV, even when simply on in the background, still has a commanding voice.

Maybe it’s time that we give TV some time-out!

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