Media, Kids, and Violence

Sarah Miller, RN                                                                  Updated July 2010

Everyone knows that American kids spend a lot of time with the media, but a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation of more than 2,000 children between 8 and 18 shows just how immersed they are. They studied children and teens’ use of video games, music, television, movies, magazines and other print media, as well as use of these media through computers and cell phones (for example, reading news online or watching a movie on a cell phone). They discovered that the average youth devotes 7.5 hours to media each day. They also found that children and teens whose parents set limits spent, on average, 3 fewer hours per day.[i]

It used to be that parents worried about their children hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” Now worries have shifted to whether children are spending too much time with media-especially media with the wrong messages.

Parents are understandably concerned about the effect that violence in video games, TV, movies, and popular music will have on their children. Several studies have been done on the effects of exposure to violence through video games, movies, TV shows, and music. Some of the conclusions from these studies include:

  • Although not every child or teen exposed to violence through media will become violent, media violence is very strongly connected with aggressive or violent behavior in those children. Researchers compare this to the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Although not everyone who smokes will develop lung cancer, smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and as a result smokers are more likely to get lung cancer.[ii]
  • .Exposure to violence in video games not only desensitizes people to violence, but also decreases empathy in children and adults. After watching violent movies or playing violent video games, people are less likely to show empathybehavior in their behaviors, for example, helping someone up who has fallen.[iii]
  • Frequent exposure to media violence during childhood could be related to violent behavior later in life.[iv]

Many of the studies show that even though youth who are already violent tend to seek out violent entertainment, they will still be influenced by the exposure to violence. The result is a vicious cycle: the kids get more aggressive and violence-prone as they are exposed to more violent media. This is the key to understanding why media violence is so dangerous, and at the same time its impact is so difficult to study.4

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents

  • Remove television, internet connections, and video games from children’s bedrooms
  • Watch television shows and movies with children
  • Limit “screen time” to 1-2 hours per day
  • Do not allow children to play video games where the player scores points by killing a human target
  • Children under 2 should avoid exposure to all “screen media” (television and movies).[1] See our articles Young Children and Screen Time (Television, DVDs, Computer) and Is Play on the Endangered List?

Even “educational TV” is not as good for children under 2 as talking or playing with adults or children in real life, for example.



[i] Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-18-year-olds. 2010, January.  Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf on June 24, 2010.

[ii] Strasberger, VC, Jordan, AB Health effects of media on children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 125(4) 755-67 2010.

[iii] Anderson, CA et.al. Violent video games effect on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries.  Psychological Bulletin. 36(2) 151-73. 2010.

[iv] Anderson, CA et.al. The influence of media violence on youth. Psychological science in the public interest. 4(3) 81-111 2003.

5 American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy statement-Media violence. Pediatrics, 124(5) pp. 1495-1503 2009, November.