Children and Violent TV: Part 1
A problem I often encounter in treating children with ADHD is that of aggressive behavior. Parents ask me what they can do to help their kids act out less in school and at home. One piece of advice I give to practically every parent is to use the V-chip. The V- is a device that allows parents to control the kind of TV children can watch, and is standard in every TV 13" or larger, manufactured since 2000. It can block the vast majority of violent and sexually suggestive broadcasted content by putting in a code that blocks such programs from showing up on the TV. The great thing about the V-chip is that parents don't have to buy anything extra; it's most likely already in their TVs at home.
People often say that violent TV is bad for children, and they are probably right. Research on the effects of violent TV and movie watching by small children has an unusual distinction in psychiatry. There are a lot of areas of psychiatry that haven't been investigated by a large number of research studies. This isn't one of them. Over the last 40 years, there have been over 1000 studies that unambiguously show that viewing violence on TV has an impact on the aggressiveness of children. I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss these effects in detail as parents of children with ADHD often have concerns about aggressive and violent behavior.
Here's what the research suggests: the more kids watch TV violence, the more aggressive they tend to become. Studies show that children are more aggressive immediately after watching violent content, later on in childhood, and as teenagers. The individuals who spend the most hours watching violent TV as small children are much more likely to become more aggressive as adults. There you go: this is one of the biggest findings from the research, and if you want you can stop reading now. If you're curious, there's more to discuss about the topic.
The last paragraph makes a lot of statements, and there are lot of questions and issues it brings up. I think the most obvious question that arises is how do we know that violent TV makes kids more aggressive? Maybe the kids who are born aggressive just like violent TV and watch more of it. It's a good question, a tough question. The answer is a little complicated. Some research has shown that the average child or adolescent exposed to violent TV can have nightmares, withdraw from friends and family, and experience symptoms of anxiety. Also, children who report that they prefer watching violent TV have been shown to exhibit more violent behaviors than other children.
But again, how do we tell whether these people had a pre-existing psychiatric disorder that the TV viewing unmasked or whether the TV viewing caused the symptoms and behaviors? Most researchers have concluded that it goes both ways: aggression increases violent TV watching and violent TV watching increases aggression. But it's still a good idea to keep small children away from violent media because of the conclusion of several good studies on the topic. The research from hundreds of studies shows that violent entertainment viewing is associated with more aggressive behavior, even after accounting for many different factors in the child's life. My next blog will discuss this information further.