Children's behaviour and media violence

Media violence does have an effect on children’s behaviour and a concerted public health response involving parents, professionals, the media and policymakers is needed to reduce its effects.

That is the conclusion of a study presented today by Professor Kevin Browne at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Forensic Psychology in Cardiff.

Professor Browne, who holds the Chair of Forensic Psychology and Child Health in the Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology at the University of Nottingham,  and his colleague Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis surveyed research on children and violent films, television and computer games published over the past 18 years.

They found that the research is of widely varying quality, but that there evidence that in young children violent imagery has short-term effects on arousal, thoughts, and emotions, increasing the likelihood of aggressive or fearful behaviour.

The evidence is less consistent for older children and teenagers, while the small amount of good quality research that discusses sex differences suggests that boys are more likely to show aggression after viewing violent media than girls.

In his paper Professor Browne sets out a number of recommendations for parents, professionals, the media and policymakers. It includes a call for education in media awareness to be included in the school curriculum.

“Parents who leave the children unsupervised viewing their adult DVD or computer game collection may damage their children’s mental health. Most parents do not wish their children to see violent imagery before they are ready for it, but we do not always make it easy for them. For instance, a film may be given a 12 certificate, but toy shops can be filled with merchandise linked to the film but aimed at much younger children. Not surprisingly, these children then have a strong desire to see a film for which they are much too young.”