Talking to kids about violence in the media they consume – television, movies, video games, music and the Internet – can help them put media violence into perspective and perhaps diffuse some of its power.
Most young children enjoy pretend play and love to imitate action heroes. But many teachers, parents and child care workers say the influence of children’s superhero TV shows or movies, can result in havoc when little fans get together.
Questions about media violence have populated the headlines for almost as long as mass media has existed. Every few years, there’s a new line up of suspects: music, video games, television shows, and movies.
Here stands the spring whom you have stain’d with mud,
This goodly summer with your winter mix’d.
You kill’d her husband, and for that vile fault
Two of her brothers were condemn’d to death,
My hand cut off and made a merry jest;
Both her sweet hands, her tongue, and that more dear
Than hands or tongue, her spotless chastity,
Inhuman traitors, you constrain’d and forced.
Titus Andronicus, Act 5, Sc. II.
Media violence has been taken up as a public policy issue by a number of Western countries. Central to the debate has been the challenge of accommodating what may appear to be opposing principles—the protection of children from unsuitable media content and upholding the right to freedom of expression.
It is difficult to set down in a definitive way what effect media violence has on consumers and young people. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main issue is that terms like “violence” and “aggression” are not easily defined or categorized. To a child, almost any kind of conflict, such as the heated arguments of some talk-radio shows or primetime news pundits, can sound as aggressive as two cartoon characters dropping anvils on one another.
Representations of violence are not new. In fact, violence has been a key part of media since the birth of literature: Ancient Greek poetry and drama frequently portrayed murder, suicide and self-mutilation, many of Shakespeare’s plays revel in violence, torture, maiming, rape, revenge and psychological terror, and some of the most popular books of the 19th century were “penny dreadfuls” that delivered blood, gore and other shocks to the lowest common denominator.