Access to violent media is only a swipe and click away for millions of Americans, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) took a closer look into how such exposure is affecting children. Their findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, have led doctors to urge parents, the media industry, and policy makers to intervene.

“To put the association between screen violence and real-world aggression in perspective, it is greater than the association between secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer as well as breast self-examination and reduced risk of death from cancer,” said the recommendations’ lead author Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the director of the center for child health, behavior and development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, in a statement. “Yet many municipalities have banned smoking because of its risks, and most clinicians advise women to perform regular self-exams.”

While hundreds of studies designed to unravel the potential link between exposure to violence and acted-out aggression have been conducted on large populations of children, researchers haven’t explored the connection between different types of violence and their residual effects.

For this new research, a group of pediatricians analyzed more than a dozen studies and meta-analyses that focused on the effects virtual violence had on both children’s attitudes and behaviors. The data revealed a direct cause-and-effect between exposure to media violence and aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and angry feelings.

Virtual Violence
Violence in the form of video games, television, and computer games may be making children more aggressive. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

On-screen violence can be accessed from virtually any electronic device today, and children are learning to navigate technology at younger and younger ages. But exposure to violence is not a new phenomenon. As early as the year 2000, G-rated movies intended for young audiences have contained violence, along with 60 percent of prime time television shows. Now with the advent of smart phones, children can access media with minimum parental intervention, and at high rates.

“Pediatricians need to make children’s media ‘diets’ an essential part of all well exams,” Christakis said. “In particular, emphasis must be placed on content and not just quantity.”

But at the end of the day, it’s the parents who have the greatest influence on what their children are exposed to. In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a similar report that found the effects of violent videos games alone between 2005 and 2013 both increased and desensitized people. But APA warned that while research may identify the link between violence and aggressive behaviors in children, it isn’t likely video game creators will nix the violence for the sake of science. That means it’s up to parents to find out what’s playing behind their children’s screens.

Christakis concluded: “Parents should be mindful of what shows their children watch and which games they play. When possible, they should play games with their children to get a better sense of what the games entail. Children under the age of 6 should be protected from virtual violence because they do not always distinguish fantasy from reality. ”

Source: the American Academy of Pediatrics. Virtual Violence. Pediatrics. 2016.