Screen or Scream?

This edited article was originally published in the Health & Life Magazine, November 2016.

Millennials grew up collecting and exchanging stickers of Pokémons. Now they capture them to fight in the battle field and win the game. The Pokémon GO craze relates years of research about the effect of screen violence on kids: how does the increase in available media violence affect children?

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Screen screen tell me, who is the most dangerous in the world?
Nowadays, the term ‘screen’includes television, smart devices, and virtual reality headsets. Call it screen, media or virtual, violence comes in different formats and Evil is the same. Where once scary movies were shown late at night and television was a handful of channels, now violent films are available on all devices, on demand, 24/7. Where once the gore was made of ketchup, now HD and special effects provide super-realistic horror.

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Imitating Aggression
Psychologists define media violence as visual portrayals of aggression by one human, animal or supernatural creature against another. This sounds not just like many films, but also many children’s programmes and video games.

In 1963, social learning researchers studied the effect of witnessing violence on child behavior. They found that 88% of children will imitate an aggressive display they witness passively (for example, on a tv screen), either by copying the aggressor or the victim. Modern research keeps reaffirming this result.

A report published in Psychiatric Times in 2012 finds that violence doesn’t only affect behavior; it extends to cognition and affection. Cognition is like the foundation on which the bricks of affection and behavior are built up to shape one’s character. Your child’s psyche is a bit like play-dough, it models itself according to its environment.

We all want the best for our children. We need to be careful what they are watching and how long they spend looking at media. But it isn’t just about the hours; it’s the type of content they consume. A study published in 2000 at the Journal of American Medical Association concluded that every G-rated movie contained at least one violent act. Scary! So, how can you make sure that your child’s media diet is healthy?

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Cook Your Kid’s Healthy Media Diet
Screen to the brain is like food to the body. You need to be picky what you give it. Choose media that improves and supports your well-being, and your children’s. Here are two useful tips that will help you prepare healthy media diets for your kids: one preventive; the other corrective.

  • Kid, pick right!
    It’s very important that parents and educators explain to kids the side effects of screen violence and to teach them how harmful it’s if they follow these acts. This could be in simple language, showing them how a character suffers from pain, how the villain hurt himself, or how the act turned to be quite destructive for everyone. By doing this, you can also help your child understand that this is a fictional story that should not be imitated. This could apply to news as well if any upsetting scene comes out. Children will most probably listen, and this could be a lifelong experience that will help them pick healthy content at all times. Finally, be mindful of the type of media you watch when your child is around. They will follow your example, so choose healthier media like informational documentaries and educational programmes. Swap video game time for family time, go for a walk, cook a meal together, dig out those old board games.
  • What if…
    Let’s say your kids get up at night crying. They can’t sleep because of a disturbing image they saw earlier. What should you do now? First, understand their feelings. Let them tell everything and make it as big as possible: the colors they see, the smell (if any) and the roars of the monster that ate all cookies. Then, help them think about it differently. Gently tell them to imagine they are watching the scene from a beautiful airplane, or train, or magic carpet, or whatever your child enjoys. And as the airplane takes off and flies away, the monster gets smaller and smaller, until it disappears. They are now swimming with the clouds. This NLP technique should help them get over unpleasant media memories and experiences, so they get back to a restful sleep and continue life normally.

Kids are exceptionally vulnerable and they might get exposed to violent media accidentally. It’s your call to educate your kids on healthy media diets and to help them with love, listening, and care.

Did you find this helpful? Share it with your friends, or share your own tips on keeping your children away from screen violence.

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