On June 26, 2007 Dr. Dale Kunkel left his Hawaiian shirts behind and left his home to present in the hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “Turn on a television set and pick a channel at random; the odds are better than 50-50 that the program you encounter will contain violent material”, he said to the Senate Committee, representing the American Psychological Association.
He listed one by one the three most harmful effects to children - learning of aggressive attitudes and behaviors, desensitization, or an increased callousness towards victims of violence and increased fear of being victimized by violence.
Dr. Kunkel, now a retired communications Professor in Arizona, wanted to make sure the committee is knowledgable: “research evidence in this area establishes clearly that the level of violence on television poses substantial cause for concern”.
A decade later, with advanced technology, iPhones, iPads, and other i-devices seem to be glued to children’s hands. Worldwide, exposure to violent media has become an even greater concern among pediatricians. With the freedom of information and content streamed freely, children are exposed more, and parents fear more, the exposure to violence.
As movements like Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! try to cut down ‘screen-time’ and promote active healthy lifestyles, trying to lift the Nation’s spirit and reduce its calorie intake, violence in media seems to continue to increase.
In July 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the voice of pediatricians in the US, released a policy statement that focused on the scientific research that depicts the effects of violent media on children’s behavior.
They coined the term ‘virtual violence’ to incorporate video games that consist of first-person shooting, as well as violent movies or TV shows. As technology continues to progress, the ability for these games and shows to become even more realistic is a source for concern.
Exposure to violent media of all types is associated with increased aggressive behaviour. It is that simple, according to the most recent research in the field.
It is critical for pediatricians, parents, industry and policy makers to work together in monitoring children’s exposure to violence.
‘Media diets’, with content monitored, not just quantity, should be considered in all children. Parents should also make a point to watch media and play games their children are engaged with them, to be able to recognize exposure to violence early on.
With virtual reality going mainstream thanks to companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook, violent video games may be easier to reach, much more vivid and intense.
Virtual Violence, Council on Communications and Media. Pediatrics; July 18, 2016; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1298