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.
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.
Whether it’s Darth Vader, the Daleks in Doctor Who or the winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, most of us remember seeing something on screen that we could only watch from behind a couch or under one of our parents’ coats: in fact, 90 per cent of adults report an enduring memory of having been traumatized as a child by something they saw on television or in a movie. What we may not remember, however, is how serious and persistent the effects of these frightening moments and images can be. As we guide our children through their media experiences, it’s important to realize that what they see can lead to problems like vivid nightmares, fear of the dark, having trouble sleeping and refusing to sleep alone.
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.
No one knows better than the communications industries that children and youth represent a huge market, due to both their own spending power and their influence on family spending decisions.
While parents may find certain representations of violence wholly appropriate for young people, there is a wide continuum of content that exists online and in the media. Anything from a cartoon cat having an anvil comically dropped on his head to video images of real life injuries and deaths can be accessed online by children and youth.
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.
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.
Teens and preteens are at the heart of the social Internet interacting with others through chat, instant messaging, social networking sites, in virtual worlds and online multi-player games. It is inevitable that at an age where young people are starting to explore their sexuality offline, they will do so online in these interactive environments as well.
When most people think about sexual risk and harm on the Internet, sexual predators come to mind. Because of its sensational nature, the spectre of unscrupulous adults preying upon and sexually exploiting kids online gets a lot of media attention. Although this does happen, sensational headlines do not help us understand the nature and true extent of the problem or how to deal with it effectively.