Children and Violent TV: Part 2
Research shows that although aggressive kids enjoy watching violent TV, violent TV does increase aggressive tendencies in children of many different temperaments. This increase in aggressiveness is a small effect, but I think enough to let parents know that the V chip is there for them to use to block the most violent media, if they want to.
There's lots of good research to support keeping small kids away from violent TV. The National Television Violence Study is one of the largest studies of its kind. It looked at the impact of 10,000 hours of TV broadcast from 1994 - 1997 and found that TV violence does contribute to antisocial effects in three ways: it increases the fear of being a victim of violence, desensitizes the viewer to violence, and teaches the viewer aggressive behaviors and attitudes. Consistent evidence from many studies shows that violent imagery has short-term effects on arousal, emotions, and thoughts, including increasing the chances of aggressive behavior, most prominently in small children. The research is not as strong for older kids or adolescents.
There are three specific factors that make future adult aggression more likely no matter how aggressive someone is in childhood: identification with aggressive characters, more exposure to TV violence, and the belief as a child that violent TV reflects real life. Keep in mind that many children watching the violence aren't acting out as children. There are studies lasting 15 years or longer that show these factors cause aggression later in childhood and into adulthood even if they are docile at a young age.
Research published since 1990 shows that media exposure increases high risk behaviors like alcohol and tobacco use, increased violent and aggressive behavior and earlier onset of sexual activity. This conclusion has been reached by many different research groups working with some of the largest medical and psychiatric agencies in the United States, including the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Medical Association. But what other factors influence aggression in children and later in life? In my last blog in this series of TV violence in children, I'll talk about some of the other influences including gender and family issues that impact aggression in children.