Marketing Fear to Parents and Adults

As concerned adults, we also need to recognize when our anxieties about media violence are used to sell us on blanket censorship, ideology, and a variety of products.

Media violence is a popular social issue and it is one that can easily be co-opted, especially when it is articulated within the context of youth and children. As adults and parents who seek to promote healthy media consumption and media literacy, we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of emotional rhetoric designed to frighten rather than enlighten us.

Emotionally charged polemics about the violent movie of the month or the newest offensive video game serve to propel issues like media violence into the spotlight, but they rarely, if ever give concerned parents, children and citizens the tools necessary to engage with the violent media they encounter. Instead, media violence – whether in news or fiction – provokes both exaggerated and distorted fears. For example, by focusing heavily on mass shootings, coverage of gun violence fails to address larger social issues or public health approaches,[1] while consuming greater amounts of crime-based media leads to an increased fear of crime, support for the death penalty and harsh sentencing laws such as ‘three strikes’ rules.[2]

As well as being exploited for political ends, media-induced fear is used to sell surveillance – whether that comes in the form of embracing government surveillance at school[3] or buying surveillance devices to spy on your own home.[4] MediaSmarts’ research has shown for more than a decade that media coverage of online sexual exploitation – which typically misrepresents who ‘predators’ are, how they approach their victims and who is at risk of being targeted[5] - leads parents to surveil their children electronically.[6] This surveillance, though, may lead to a breakdown of trust between parents and children, ironically putting children more at risk.[7]




[1] Jashinsky, J. M., Magnusson, B., Hanson, C., & Barnes, M. (2017). Media agenda setting regarding gun violence before and after a mass shooting. Frontiers in public health, 4, 291.

[2] Eyal, K., Metzger, M. J., Lingsweiler, R. W., Mahood, C., & Yao, M. Z. (2006). Aggressive political opinions and exposure to violent media. Mass Communication & Society, 9(4), 399-428.

[3] Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. Oxford University Press.

[4] Haskins C. (2019) How Ring Transmits Fear to American Suburbs. Motherboard. Retrieved from

[5] Roberts, S. (2011). An analysis of the representation of internet child luring and the fear of cyberspace in four Canadian newspapers (Doctoral dissertation, UOIT).

[6] Steeves, V. (2012) Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Talking to Youth and Parents About Life Online. MediaSmarts. Retrieved from

[7] Lyon, D. (2008). Surveillance Society. Fesitval del Diritto, Piacenza, Italia. September 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2012 from