How Virtual Violence Can Have a Lasting Impact on Your Child

How Virtual Violence Can Have a Lasting Impact on Your Child

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians discuss a healthy “media diet” with children.

As if parents need another reason to worry about their kids, children spend an average of seven hours a day staring at television, tablet, computer and smart phone screens, reports The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

To make matters worse, virtual violence—violence that’s not experienced physically but still leaves a psychological impact—is staring children in the face on a regular basis. A 2017 study found that 61 percent of primetime shows the researchers exaamined contained violent scenes, and 39 percent contained gun violence.

Due in part to the prevalence of virtual violence, the AAP has released recommendations for pediatricians and parents guiding children’s media use. They suggest, during regular well-checkup visits, pediatricians should discuss a healthy “media diet” with kids and discourage excessive amounts of screen time, especially games and shows with violence.

Learn more about virtual violence, why it’s dangerous for your child and how you can protect your kids from its effects.  

How does virtual violence affect kids?
Violent games and shows make plot lines and intense action all too real for children. Games and television shows with first-person shooting are especially dangerous not just for young children, but for older kids and teenagers, too, says the AAP. Some might be more affected than others by the health risks linked to virtual violence. Excessive media use—violent or non-violent—may lead to:

  • Sleep problems and nightmares
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety, fear or distress
  • Obesity

Aggression is a hot topic when it comes to kids and virtual violence, too. Research suggests violent video games may increase the risk of aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts and may make it hard for children to understand others or share their own feelings. 

5 ways parents can enforce healthy media habits

  • Talk to your pediatrician: As the AAP suggests, pediatricians should address a child’s “media diet” during each well-visit exam. With parents present, physicians can discuss the types of games they’re playing and how much time they’re spending playing them.
  • Check video games out for yourself: The only way to know how violent your child’s favorite game is to take it for a spin yourself. Experts recommend that parents co-play and co-watch so they can evaluate the game and determine if it’s appropriate. Parents cannot rely on the media industry for the proper ratings, says the AAP.
  • Implement screen-free areas and monitor usage: Parents should be mindful when it comes to television and screen placement at home. It’s best to leave televisions out of kids’ bedrooms, and to turn it off during dinner and other family events. Always make sure screen time ends one hour before bedtime.  
  • Enforce time limits: The AAP recommends that children ages two to five only be allowed one daily hour of high-quality entertainment media, like educational games or television shows. Children under six shouldn’t be exposed to any type of virtual violence, even cartoon violence, because they have a hard time distinguishing the show or game from reality. If you have young children, ages 18 to 24 months, the AAP suggests limiting their screen time to high-quality programs only, and always watching with them. Kids younger than 18 months should have minimal screen time in general—this age is critical for their brain development. Children this young should only be allowed to use media for video-chatting; a quick hello to long-distance relatives or family friends on Skype is A-OK.
  • Encourage other activities: With so much energy, try to get your child to head outdoors, pick up a book, get some exercise or to try a new hobby.

Medically reviewed in May 2018. Updated in August 2019.

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