KIDS
October 17, 2014

Violent Games, Violent Kids

The experts have spoken: Violent video games aren’t good for kids’ development.

There has been plenty of evidence that violence in TV, movies, and video games is linked to poorer emotional development in kids. Yet some behavioral scientists remain skeptical, believing the relationship is not clear. Despite studies that clearly show links between violent media and child development, what should be a no-brainer is still a lingering “controversy.”

To try to put the apparent controversy to rest — or at least in perspective — researchers in a new study polled media specialists, pediatricians, psychologists, and parents to see what they thought about the connection.

They asked media psychologists and communication scientists from three professional organizations, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communication and Media, and a sample of 268 parents whether or not they felt that there was a link between violent media and aggression in children.

The idea that violent media itself could cause a young person to be act more aggressively is significant. And it’s not that hard to imagine.

The pediatricians spoke loud and clear: 90% said they believed there was a connection. About two-thirds of researchers and two-thirds of parents also believed there was a connection. Of the researchers who didn’t agree, half disagreed or strongly disagreed, and the other half were undecided.

“Some people claim there is no consensus about whether violent media can increase aggression in children, but this study shows that there is consensus,” said study author Brad Bushman in a news release. “As in most areas of research, there is not complete agreement. But we found the overwhelming majority of media researchers, parents and pediatricians agree that violent media is harmful to children.”

Given the number of researchers who acknowledged the connection, Bushman says, when it comes down to it, it’s “hardly a controversy.”

Interestingly, most pediatricians and parents felt that there is actually a causal relationship between violence in media and aggression in kids — that playing violent games or watching violence actually makes kids more violent or aggressive. This is important, since there are a number of factors that go into a child’s level of aggression, like the family environment and the community in which the child is raised, which could all play strong roles.

So the idea that violent media itself could cause a young person to be act more aggressively is significant. And it’s not that hard to imagine.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to predict how aggression stimulated by violent media will play out in time — for example, whether a person will become violent at home or school. “You cannot predict a shooting rampage just based on exposure to violent media or any other single factor,” said Bushman.

It is this uncertainty — we don't know what the exact relationship between viewing violence and acting aggressively is — that has been behind the skepticism many researchers have voiced. It's a little like the early days of research on smoking and lung cancer. It looks like there's a clear connection, but it has yet to be scientifically proven.

What Parents Should Know
The takeaway message, though, is the fact that violent media and aggression are connected again and again in studies. And aggression can play out in many serious ways besides school shootings: Bullying and verbal or physical abuse for example.

For these reasons the study authors say that it’s critical for researchers and the media to be on the same page when discussing the connection between violent media and violent or aggressive behavior and presenting it to the public. Bushman says that portraying the connection as unclear or denying it altogether are likely to only worsen the issue in the long run.

Hopefully, the study will be an important step in getting the remaining skeptics to admit the risks of violent media. And again, though there may be many factors that lead to a child’s aggression — and conversely, empathy and kindness — reducing one of the major influences may save a lot of heartbreak, and maybe lives.

The study was carried out by researchers at The Ohio State University and Philipps University Marburg in Germany. It is published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

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