Effects of Media Violence on Children's Social and Emotional Development essay

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Media Violence on Children's Social and Emotional Development

The past century has been characterized by a proliferation of media types, beginning with newspapers and tabloids in the late 19th century, to the introduction of other print media, radio, motion pictures, television and, of course, the Internet and numerous violent-themed video games at the end of the 20th century. An unfortunate concomitant of this growth in media types and their accessibility by every-larger numbers of average consumers has been the use of violence as theme to generate interest that will increase audiences and therefore profitability in this increasingly competitive environment. To gain some fresh insights concerning these trends and their effects on young people's social and emotional development, this paper reviews the relevant juried literature, followed by a summary of the research and a discussion concerning the significance and implications of the findings that emerged.



Following the deregulation of the entertainment industry during the 1980s, there has been a growing trend towards the use of violence of all types. Not surprisingly, this increase in violence in the media has attracted a great deal of attention from national and state policymakers, parents, educators, and even the entertainment industry itself concerning the potential effects that violence in the media can have on children's social and emotional development. The research to date indicates that early exposure to violence in the media can have some profound adverse effects on children's social and emotional development, particularly for minorities. To determine what the experts have to say about these issues and what can be done to reverse these ugly trends, this study provides a summary of several peer-reviewed articles concerning violence in the media and its effect on young people's social and emotional development. A summary of the several articles and a discussion concerning their significance and implications concludes the study.


The following three peer-reviewed articles were selected for the purposes of this study outlined in the introduction. A summary of these articles together with a discussion of their findings follows.

Summary of "Media and Risky Behaviors" by Soledad Liliana Escobar-Chaves and Craig A. Anderson (2008).

In this study, Escobar-Chavez and Anderson present the results of several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies concerning the effects of media violence on young people as well as what steps have been taken in recent years to address the problem. Emphasizing that as young people enter the experimental phases of early adolescence, they are especially likely to engage in various risky behaviors already, a tendency that is further exacerbated by exposure to violence in the media.

To their credit, these researchers are careful to avoid concrete conclusions based on spurious evidence and concede that more research is needed before drawing blanket conclusions, but they go on to stress the need for action today based on what is already known -- which is a great deal. In this regard, Escobar-Chavez and Anderson report that, "The extent to which media violence causes youth aggression and violence has been hotly debated for more than fifty years. Despite many reports that exposure to violent media is a causal risk factor, the U.S. public remains largely unaware of these risks, and youth exposure to violent media remains extremely high" (p. 147). These authoritative reports include public advisories from the U.S. surgeon general in 1972 and 2001, a National Institute of Mental Health report from 1982, as well as a Federal Trade Commission report in 2000 (Escobar-Chavez & Anderson, 2009). In addition, others reports have also been issued concerning the adverse effects of violence in the media on children's social and emotional development by the American Psychological Association in 1994, 2000, and 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association (Escobar-Chavez & Anderson, 2009).

Beyond the foregoing authoritative analyses, a more recent study sponsored by the U.S. surgeon general determined that "Research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts" (p. 148). In fact, time and again, researchers have arrived at the same basic conclusion that there is a direct relationship between exposure to violence in the media and aggressive behaviors by young people (Escobar-Chavez and Anderson, 2009). The problem has become even worse, they say, due to the proliferation of violent-themed video games that can be played on numerous game platforms, the Internet and even most hand-held devices such as smartphones. Young people are playing a lot of these games, Escobar-Chavez and Anderson note, with male youths spending up to 20 hours a week on average playing them, but the risk for exposure to violence in these games exists for female youths as well. In sum, these researchers conclude that the jury is in and the vote was not even close: violence in the media has been shown time and again to have profoundly adverse social and emotional developmental consequences for young people.

Summary of "Marketing Violence: the Special Toll on Young Children of Color" by Diane E. Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige (2003).

In this study, Levin and Carlsson-Paige provide a brief but comprehensive background concerning the main factors that have accounted for an increase in violence in the media, as well as the effects that exposure to violence can have on young people today. In this regard, the authors cite the deregulation of the entertainment industry in the 1980s as the beginning of the current proliferation of violence in the media. In this regard, the authors report that, "Media violence has become a more significant risk factor for children since the deregulation of television in the 1980's and the escalating marketing of violence that has followed. Children are exposed to more and more media violence in more aspects of their lives and at younger ages" (p. 427).

The authors go on to explain how savvy media marketers have routinely and systematically exploited young people in a variety of ways through the use of violence as a marketing tool in a media-culture that affects virtually all young people today. These are important issues, Levin and Carlsson-Paige argue, because research has clearly shown that violence is a learned behavior and the basis for future aggressive behaviors are already firmly in place by the time children reach age 8 years.

Although violence in the media represents just one of several risk factors that can combine to produce such aggressive behaviors later in life, Levin and Carlsson-Page emphasize that the more risk factors that are involved, the greater the chances of such aggressive behaviors manifesting, a tendency that affects low-income and minority children in particular. When young children witness violence in the media, they internalize these events in ways that are compatible with their developmental stage. Young people, though, are frequently unable to completely understand what they are seeing, but rather take the most extreme events (which are typically the violent ones) and extrapolate the message they receive from those only, rather than seeing the "big picture." For example, Levin and Carlsson-Paige report that, "When children see the violence, it looks exciting, powerful, and the method of choice for resolving conflicts. They try to act it out before they can fully understand its meaning or are fully able to think through how it affects others" (p. 428). In fact, empirical observations from educators confirm that young people frequently lack the ability to fully comprehend the implications of the violence they are mimicking on other children (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2002).

In sum, then, the authors argue that exposure to violence in the media causes significant developmental problems for all young children, but especially minority and low-income children who watch more television than their white counterparts. As the authors conclude, "Violence that is marketed through the media-because it glorifies violence, undermines play, and portrays stereotypes about race-is a very pervasive and powerful risk factor that influences children's perceptions of themselves and others, can undermine their development, and can contribute to violent behavior" (Levin & Carlsson-Paige, 2002, p. 429).

Summary of "Mitigating the effects of gun violence on children and youth" by James Garbarino, Catherine P. Bradshaw, and Joseph A. Vorrasi

In this study, Carbarino and his colleagues cites the need for further research concerning violence in the media and its effect on young people, and review recent studies in this area to determine what can be done to mitigate the adverse effects of such exposure on young people's social and emotional development. One of the more interesting -- and disturbing -- aspects of this analysis was the fact that although first-hand exposure to gun violence can have some truly powerful effects, these effects extend to gun violence that is witnessed in various media venues as well. The adverse effects of such exposure on young people's emotional and social development are broad-based and…[continue]

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