How your child is affected by violence
When parents convey clear norms that teach children what is right and wrong, they create a protective barrier against the damaging effects of media violence,” says researcher on violence Ragnhild Bjornebekk.
by Sigrun Landro Thomassen
Ragnhild Bjornebekk has recently held a seminar about media violence to parents in Baerum, Norway. Oystein Samnoen and Odd Arild Olsen from Kids and Media attended.
“Children who experience safety and clear norms at home are more protected against negative effects than children who don’t,” says Bjornebekk.
“Therefore, it is important that both schools and parents work on giving children and young people informed attitudes and basic knowledge to counteract bullying. I believe that there should be more focus on ethics in schools. We need a debate about social norms,” says the researcher.
Violence in games
“Media content where aggression is rewarded can be particularly damaging for children’s and young people’s development, especially children who tend to identify themselves with the one exercising the violence.”
She believes that computer games distinguish themselves from other media because many games are based on the practice of violence and that other damaging actions are rewarded:
“Games are also different than films because they often involve a lot of repetition, something that increases the negative educational effect. Not least are games that are based on continual violence particularly responsible for increasing this negative effect, for example: Grand Theft Auto (GTA),” says Bjørnebekk, referring to research by Douglas Gentile and Craig Anderson (2006).
Violence in films
The researcher believes that films where violence is rewarded, justified, or doesn’t result in consequences can be especially damaging for children and young people.
“In a number of films it can be difficult to distinguish between hero and villain, or the hero might be the one who is the most violent. Other films are based on revenge as the plot’s driving force, and the hunt for revenge can be destructive. Such elements can be dangerous portrayals. If one is to remove violence and bullying, the hunt for revenge must be confronted,” says Bjornebekk.
The development of fear
Children in general and particularly girls can be scared by strong impressions from the media, says researcher Ragnhild Bjornebekk.
“Dark colours and scary music in films can reinforce the experience of fear in younger children, especially in combination with children, carers or animals in danger.”
Exposure to violent portrayals can create fear and anxiety. The degree of fear depends on the images, the child’s personality and the child’s situation. Children are most at risk of developing fearful reactions as a result of strong impressions if they watch them alone or don’t have someone to help them process these impressions afterwards.
The researcher indicates that the combination of violence and sex in films has a greater negative effect than violent images alone. Exposure to violent pornography can create cynicism in boys.
Therefore, violent pornography is especially negative. In the 80’s, depictions of rape were not accepted in films, but this has changed a lot,” says Bjornebekk.
Director Oystein Samnoen in Kids and Media believes that the Internet media has made strong pornographic material easily available for teenagers.
“Children and young people are exposed to considerably more pornography now than a few decades ago, and the language has become much coarser. Teenagers who search for pictures or film clips with exceedingly strong language and actions will find it on the net,” says Samnoen.
Fictive versus realistic portrayals of violence
Bjornebekk refers to research that indicates that both realistic and fictional media violence will promote violent behaviour in a person who shows a will to learn from violent media.
“Most children and young people don’t have much acceptance for violence, and are generally affected less by fictional and fantasy violence than by scenes with a lot of realism,” she explains.
Bjornebekk encourages parents to get involved in their children’s media use:
It’s important that parents talk to their children about violent scenes in films, including fictive violence, for example in cartoons. Parents must impart good attitudes. If children show an excessively large amount of interest in violent scenes in films, then this might be a danger signal that parents should consider.”
Effects of media violence
Bjornebekk refers to research by Gentile and Anderson, which indicates that children and adults who buy a large amount of violent entertainment show a tendency to more aggression and violence than those who buy little. One can become unemotional, cold and less empathic to violence in other media and in real life than others. Media violence tends to reinforce itself: the more you watch, the more you want to watch.
“Society’s tolerance of violence and strong scenes in the media has changed a lot. We accept more, age limits are falling and in this way children are exposed earlier to violence and frightening impressions,” says researcher on violence Ragnhild Bjornebekk.
Researcher Ragnhild Bjornebekk and Kids and Media's Games Manager Odd Arild Olsen. (Photo: Kids and Media)
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