The effects of media violence on children have been studied for over thirty years, with researchers repeatedly finding correlations between aggressive/violent behavior and the viewing of media violence. These education and psychology researchers began asserting years ago that a cause-and-effect relationship existed, i.e., viewing media violence was one of the causative factors in aggressive behavior in children. We often use the phrase that “children are impressionable.” We mean that children do not see the world through the same filter of experience that adults do. Children see things more literally. They do not yet possess the sophisticated sensibilities to distinguish fiction from reality. It matters a great deal, therefore, how much TV children watch and what they view.
Young children often mimic what they see. Parents and caretakers observe this regularly. If children see people punching and kicking, they may act out that same behavior. Older children develop, through years of watching, sub-conscious mental plans of how they will react in conflict situations. For years they have seen conflicts resolved by violence, and they sub-consciously develop the same reaction plan. When confronted with a conflict, the tendency is to react the way they have seen countless others react—in a combative, aggressive or violent manner. Researchers call this developing a “cognitive script.”
Through television, video games, and movies, children and teens view countless acts of violence, brutality, and terror as part of entertainment. They become conditioned to associating violence with entertainment. This is the classical conditioning. First-person shooter video games develop our children’s skills in operating weapons. The games reward marksmanship, and further reinforce the association of killing with entertainment.
In the past, the heroes of movie and television shows were usually people who strictly followed the law. Now, heroes are often people who take the law into their own hands, who see an injustice or evil and seek to rectify it personally, sometimes brutally, regardless of the consequences. Such portrayals signal to a child society’s approval of that behavior. Lacking the judgment that comes with age, a child who feels he has been dealt with unfairly may copy that behavior, with disastrous consequences