The extent to which exposure to violence creates violent children and/or aggressive behavior is a subject which has been debated in a comprehensive manner. However, the fundamental research findings are consistent. The research continues to demonstrate that exposure to violence creates negative manifestations in the behavior of children. "While violence is not new to the human race, it is an increasing problem in modern society. With greater access to firearms and explosives, the scope and efficiency of violent behavior has had serious consequences. We need only look at the recent school shootings and the escalating rate of youth homicides among urban adolescents to appreciate the extent of this ominous trend" (Beresin, 2010). Given the fact that children are manifesting violent behavior in more and more disturbing ways, making places like schools -- previously dens of safety -- into places where children feel unsafe is a strong enough reason to study the various influences that can cause children to act violent. One of these factors, as it is well understood, is exposure to violence through sources of media.
Chronologically, the research has pointed to the negative impact of violent television programs or video games and their impact on the mind of children -- even kids that don't have a history of violent behavior. "Researchers found nonaggressive children who had been exposed to high levels of media violence had similar patterns of activity in an area of the brain linked to self-control and attention as aggressive children who had been diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder" (Grayson-Mathis, 2005). This particular study was so ground-breaking because it showed the first connection to violent media and the disruption of proper brain functioning. During the research study, researchers monitored the activity in the frontal cortex of the brain in a group of just under 20 children while they engaged in a task that needed concentration (less activity in the frontal cortex of the brain is connected with issues connected to self-control and attention) (Grayson-Mathis, 2005). The groups were composed of children who were made up of the following: one collective were kids who were deemed to be aggressive and laden with disruptive behavior, while the other had no history of behavior problems; half the children in each group were exposed to high levels of media violence which had clear representations of human injury (Grayson-Mathis, 2005). "As expected, the results showed that all of the aggressive children had reduced activity in their frontal cortex while completing the task, regardless of their levels of media violence exposure. But researchers found that nonaggressive children who had high levels of media violence exposure also displayed a similar pattern of low activity in the frontal cortex" (Grayson-Mathis, 2005). As researchers anticipated, the children who didn't have to deal with any amounts of media violence or depictions of human injury had a higher level of frontal cortex activity (Grayson-Mathis, 2005).
This study was so ground-breaking in 2005 was because it offered the biochemical processes behind the manifestations of violent behavior that would occur in children once they'd been exposed to violent forms of media. Essentially, this study offered an interior snapshot of what was happening inside of the brain when children were affronted with violent images and scenarios and demonstrated how the human body essentially dealt with this.
Another reason why it's so detrimental for children to witness violence on television or via video games is because children don't fully understand the difference between fantasy and reality, as other studies have demonstrated. This is no small issue. "Some researchers have demonstrated that very young children will imitate aggressive acts on TV in their play with peers. Before age 4, children are unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy and may view violence as an ordinary occurrence. In general, violence on television and in movies often conveys a model of conflict resolution. It is efficient, frequent, and inconsequential" (Beresin, 2010). Children just witness their beloved heroes saving the day -- using violence as an effective tool. Violence is seldom shown in terms of the devastating consequences that it creates; alternatively it is seen as something the "good guys" use as a means of achieving a just end. "Heroes are violent, and, as such, are rewarded for their behavior. They become role models for youth. It is 'cool' to carry an automatic weapon and use it to knock off the 'bad guys'" (Beresin, 2010). The fundamental issue is that children are malleable and exposure to violence can too easily make them think that violence is acceptable means of resolving conflict (Hermes, 2011).
Understanding the Impact of Media Violence on Child Development
The key to understanding how violence impacts children in a significant and disturbing way can be viewed in terms of the child's standard development. "The ability and desire to copy are present since the stage of newborn, young children imitating without discrimination behaviors and facial expressions, even before realizing that they have their own facial expressions that actually define them. Children aged 14 months, for example, imitate behaviors seen on television, and children up to 3-4 years cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, television being for them an important source of information about how the world works outside their parental home" (Ioan et al., 2013). These findings demonstrate yet again how important it is that children should be adequately sheltered from violence: they simply don't possess the same understanding and filter that adults have to process such images in a reasonable way. Adults are able to separate fiction and fantasy from reality. Children aren't able to make such distinctions; they can quite often find a way to rectify the images that they see as being real and mentally normalize it into their reality. "In this context, they may perceive violence as a daily reality and can become quite fascinated by committing violent acts in television programs. Even though later perception of the TV programs and messages transmitted through the media becomes increasingly discriminatory, early perceptions remain engraved and can be revived in times of acute stress, when they can result in committing aggressive acts" (Ioan, 2013). Simply put, images of violence are stressful, aggressive images, and children just do not have the sophisticated minds of adults which can reconcile them and make sense of them as being artificial. Fundamentally, children accept them and in that acceptance is the danger that children will begin to emulate them. Essentially, allowing children to be exposed to violence means that one is allowing them to be exposed to images that their mind is not able to process. It's comparable to exposing children to graphic images of sex: children aren't sophisticated enough to reconcile what they're seeing and the images can be traumatizing and disturbing.
The impact of violent media on children can be incredibly damaging to society. "Perpetrators of violence are in-uenced by their experiences. They learn violence and aggression in a variety of ways. One of the many ways in which children learn to be aggressive is through their television viewing (Carlsson & von Feilitzen, 1998; Huston & Wright, 1998; Parke & Slaby, 1983). Television's level of violence, particularly in children's programming, has been carefully documented for nearly four decades (Gerbner, Gross, & Morgan, 1994). Television often depicts aggression as a good way to solve problems, a way that brings status to the aggressor and can even be fun (Groebel, 2001). The eventual result of such a winsome depiction of aggression is that many young viewers learn to accept and even imitate violence (National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 1993)" (Rosenkoetter et al., 2009). This is yet another example of compelling evidence as to the extreme damage that allowing kids to witness and experience violent media can have upon society at large: the danger is in the potential for imitation. This potential endangers the future of these kids and the safety of society. Just as educational media has the potential to enrich and foster the imagination of children by leaving a positive imprint on the minds of children; violent media can also leave a profound imprint on the minds of children. This imprint, however, is negative and it can spark children to act in violent aggressive ways as they go through life, potentially leading to crime and delinquency.
Crime and delinquency are very real issues of immediate concern because in many school shootings one of the common threads that have united the shooters is that they've all had experience playing violent video games. Notably in the Columbine shootings, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold religiously played violent games where they were first-person shooters. Now, it is unrealistic to ascribe playing violent video games as the main reason or sole reason for school shootings. However, it is a common thread in many school shootings and is one which should not be overlooked. "As with Michael Carneal, from Kentucky, who in 1997 shot and killed three of his classmates. He too was also said to have been a…