Ask the Pediatrician: How do violent movies and video games affect children?

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Since the first motion picture, adults have worried about how children would respond to violent imagery. Now that mobile screens offer kids unlimited access to violent images and videos, we have even more to worry about.

Virtual violence is any act of aggression your child might absorb through TV, movies, video games, social media and other digital channels. It includes the simulated violence in blockbuster films and amateur videos and the animated violence in cartoons and interactive games. News reports of real-life tragedies also deliver an endless loop of virtual violence.

Virtual violence needn’t involve physical harm. Aggressive, threatening, racist or hateful statements can cause can be just as damaging to children who witness them.

What children see (or play) influences how they behave

Decades of research link virtual violence to aggressive thoughts, feelings and actions in children. Even though we’re still learning about the effects of violent content video games and social media, experts agree that kids are deeply influenced by brutality wherever they experience it.

Whether real or simulated, witnessing violent acts may give kids the sense that aggression is normal and acceptable. This may lead them to act out what they see and hear, especially if they witness violence at home or in their communities. Newer studies show that exposure to virtual violence can trigger mental health struggles, including depression and anxiety.

5 practical steps to protect children and teens from the effects of virtual violence

You can’t shield your child from all forms of virtual violence. But these five steps can help minimize the harm that violent content can do to your child’s health.

No single violent movie or video game will not make your child violent. What matters is the amount and intensity of virtual violence your child absorbs over time. You can protect your child’s health by monitoring what they watch and play and putting common-sense rules in place, based on your child’s age, temperament, and unique needs.

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