In contemporary society, children spend a lot of time-consuming different forms of media such as video games, the Internet, television, and movies. Extensive research has shown that children are exposed to violence in the aforementioned media forms in various ways. These exposures have both short-term and long-term effects on the psychological well-being of children. The most common psychological effects of violent media include aggressive behavior, imitation of violent acts, mean-world mentality, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and depression (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 702). Pediatricians, parents, and teachers need to advocate for safer media content to protect children from the harmful effects of violent content. Also, parents need to monitor what their children watch on television and the Internet.
Aggressive and violent behavior
Aggression and violent behavior are examples of the harmful effects of violent media (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 702). Observation and imitation are two of the most effective ways through which children learn. Violent media is more harmful to children under the age of 8 years because, at that age, they can’t differentiate between reality and fantasy. In that regard, they are highly vulnerable to violent media. They embrace beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that align with the kind of violence they see. For example, many video games depict violence as a way of attaining victory over other people. Therefore, children embrace the belief that the only way to earn the respect of their peers is through violence. Many children consume entertainment violence without the guidance of parents (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 703).
They fail to understand that the violence is used for immediate visceral thrills that are aimed at entertaining viewers. In many cases, such media does not show the costs and consequences of violent behaviors (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 706). In other instances, violence is used in sexual contexts to portray the dynamics of male-female relationships. However, such representations are exaggerated for entertainment purposes. Such content affects children negatively because it teaches them to associate positive feelings with harming others. Children view and imitate the violent behaviors they see in video games, music, movies, and television shows (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 706).
Desensitization to violence
Prolonged exposure to violent content causes desensitization because children learn to associate violent acts with positive outcomes (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 707). Initially, violent content induces intense emotional feelings of fear and unrest among children. However, repeated exposure decreases the intensity of emotional responses. In that regard children, experience reduced arousal and low-intensity emotional reactions when they encounter acts of violence. Some studies have shown that psychological desensitization results in a reduction in sympathy for victims of violence because children learn to associate violence with positive outcomes (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 707).
For instance, the most violent and aggressive characters in certain video games emerge victorious because they possess the power to vanquish their enemies. Television shows, movies, and video games teach specific violent behaviors that children copy because they seem appropriate and useful in achieving desired outcomes. In this way, children copy and imitate these behaviors and integrate them into their belief and behavior systems. The repeated practice of violent acts inculcates certain behavioral scripts into the memories of children and, as a result, interferes with proper cognitive development. Children learn to associate violence with positive outcomes. For example, many video games reward players for successfully using violence to conquer their enemies. Video games allow children to rehearse violent behavioral acts that are ultimately rewarded.
Increase in hostile feelings
Negative conditioning and reinforcement are two of the most insidious effects of prolonged exposure to violent content on different media platforms. Children are conditioned to behave and think in certain ways (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 708). Active participation in violent video games encourages the development of violent attitudes and destructive thinking patterns that increase hostile feelings. Children who have been exposed to violent media for long periods learn that the world is a violent and unsafe place. In that regard, they develop hostility as a survival mechanism (Browne and Hamilton-Giachritsis 708). The violence conditions them to react rather than respond to issues. Young children react to situations using tactics that their heroes or favorite characters used in the movies they watched and the video games they played. In most cases, these tactics involve the use of violence or aggressive behavior.
Several research studies have shown that violent media has destructive outcomes on the psychological wellbeing of children. The most important aspect of mitigating the negative effects is for parents to monitor the type of content that their children view or access on various media platforms. Also, they should limit the time they spend on the Internet, playing video games, and watching television. The major psychological effects of violent media on children include the development of aggressive and violent behavior, increased hostile feelings, negative attitudes and beliefs, and desensitization to violence. The longer the duration of consuming violent media, the more destructive are the effects on children.
Browne, Kevin, and Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis. “The Influence of Violent Media on Children and Adolescents: A public-Health Approach.” Lancet, vol. 365, 2005, pp. 702-710.