The Influence of Violent Media on Children & Adolescents

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It is hard to find any media these days that has not fallen victim to the need for ratings bumps based on violence. Gone are the days of subtle, violence-free scenes designed to inspire chills without gore, the specialty of Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, each new filmmaker and television show pushes to stretch the limits of what we tolerate even further. What is this doing to our minds and perceptions? Here is a look at some of the effects:

Media-Caused PTSD
Many studies have shown that it is hard for our brain to understand the difference between story and reality. Though our logical side will understand the line, our emotional side often does not. This is particularly true in cases where you don’t have social or emotional counterparts to this media. Kids who spend a lot of time alone, or who escape to this violence from a volatile or stimulus-free home are particularly at risk. The effects of this are very similar to war-time PTSD, even though their war was completely in their heads. The emotional and psychological responses that follow are also very similar. Many adults who feel this way have a tendency to overreact to the risk of something that happened on television, causing fear spirals that can affect an entire community and the way that they perceive outsiders, like minorities, refugees and immigrants. Media that has been shown to cause this can range from violent movies and video games to hyped up news stories with extreme points of view and repeated clips of only the most violent events.

This is the greatest fear of many people. Desensitization is the moving target of what is too inappropriate for media. What shocks them, in other words, can be bad when it no longer does. As movies try harder to shock people with concepts that are at the edge of our conception of appropriate viewing, it makes other things, which were horrible, seem harmless. This creates a situation where we apply those same standards to our real world. Vigilante justice in response to things, inappropriate social behavior in the form of insult or bullying and violence levels in our communities are all things that can become more acceptable as our brain makes the correlation between acceptable fiction and acceptable fact.

Response Training
The final effect that violent media can have, particularly in the form of video games, is response training. Because of the graphic detail shown by today’s video games, the military has said that they don’t spend as much time training their sharpshooters, as they have honed that skill with video games. If this is channeled into a socially appropriate venue, this can be a helpful job skill. However, in other cases, the need to kill a lot of things to de-stress may end in a more violent and tragic way. This is one of the theories about the severe increase in school shootings over the past 20 years.