The American Academy of Pediatrics just released a policy statement about children’s exposure to virtual violence. Here is my take on what the policy means for parents.
The first thing that parents should know about virtual violence is that kids today have a hard time avoiding it. It’s pervasive on TV, even in children’s programming. Video games are saturated with violence. One study, according to the policy statement, estimates that before they reach middle school the typical child will see 8,000 murders and 100,000 other violent acts. Regardless of the device, violence is at the fingertips of our children.
Second, parents should know that all reputable scholars agree that overwhelming evidence exists showing that exposure to virtual violence is responsible, to some degree, for increases in children’s aggression. The effect is small to moderate, but we as parents should be concerned about any effect that virtual violence exposure has on our kids.
And last, the policy makes several recommendations about what can be done to stem the tide when it comes to virtual violence. You can read the recommendations yourself at the link above, so I won’t repeat them here. But, I will add one recommendation of my own. No matter how protective parents are—restricting kids’ use of video games and certain TV shows—because of the pervasive nature of virtual violence, kids will be exposed to virtual violence at some time. Research shows that setting rules and watching TV/playing video games with children can help. But perhaps more importantly, parent-child conversations about virtual violence need to take place. For whatever reason, the need for parent-child conversations about virtual violence was left out of the policy statement, but research shows that perhaps the single most important thing parents can do to help their kids deal with undesirable media effects is to have regular conversations with them about the undesirable content.
There are still a few voices out there that will tell you that exposure to virtual violence is nothing to worry about, and that media violence has no effect on children’s aggression. If I can communicate anything to parents it’s that we should take the proven link between media violence and aggression seriously. It’s real, but so is the influence of a parent. My hope is that we as parents will rise to the challenge and start talking to our kids about what they see and do with media.
What are your thoughts about the new policy statement, and about my recommendations? Have you had any experiences with talking to your kids about virtual violence?