Scientific evidence shows that, whether in real life or in movies, TV shows, or video games, violence always has a harmful, often permanent, impact on the viewer’s brain.
The Effects of Viewing Violence
Bible teacher and author, John Piper, recognizes the potential harmful impact that viewing violence can have on people of any age. He does not own a television and asserts that he has never seen a person watch violent or explicit programming and become more spiritual as a result. "What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ," Piper asserts. "Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ."
It isn't a question of whether watching violence will make people violent, but about whether it has a positive or negative impact on their minds and actions. A group of studies out of Australia in 2015 showed that sitting in front of the television or playing video games for long periods of time (more than two hours) caused increases in anxiety compared to those with less screen time. Violent programming wasn't specifically mentioned, but 80 percent of popular video games and 91 percent of movies shown on television contain violence according to parenting expert Dr. Sears.
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Witnessing Interpersonal Violence
Seeing violent acts in person also has profound effects. Children who witness domestic violence are far more likely to experience stress, anxiety and depression. Too often, children who witness violence in their own lives go on to commit it. Exposure to family violence makes children six times more likely to commit suicide, 24 percent more likely to commit sexual assault and 50 percent more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
Some may even commit violence in order to stop the violence they are witnessing. Over half the males ages 11 to 22 in jail for homicide have killed someone who was abusing their mother.
The Impact of Media Violence on Children
The scientific evidence showing that viewing media violence harms children is almost overwhelming. The American Academy of Family Physicians states in their position paper on media violence that over 2,000 scientific papers, studies and reviews dating back to the 1950s show impacts on children including increased aggression toward others, becoming desensitized to violence, bullying, fears, depression, nightmares and sleep disturbances.
The AAFP compared the connection between viewing media violence and its various effects to the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, an association which is undeniable to today's society. Children see an average of 200,000 violent acts on television before their 18th birthdays, according to the American Psychological Association.
In 1982 the National Institute of Mental Health identified three major effects of viewing media violence, based on earlier research:
- Being more likely to behave aggressively or in harmful ways toward others
- Being more fearful of the world around them
- Becoming less sensitive to others' pain and suffering
Compared to 30 years ago, media violence, as well as children's access to it, has greatly increased.
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To top it all off, a study published in Kid's Health from Nemours revealed that, of all the children surveyed, their number one fear is "scary movies and TV shows."
A Distorted Worldview
Not all people who view violence will go on to become violent themselves, but that doesn't mean they aren'timpacted by viewing violence. Besides being more desensitized to others' suffering and becoming fearful of the world around them, those who view media violence may develop a distorted view of what the world is like.
Those who watch media violence are more likely to have what researchers call the "mean world syndrome." They see the world as a more dangerous place than it really may be and often have fears about being a victim of violence. Such fears may lead people to carry a weapon because they develop a "get them before they get me" mentality.
It may be difficult to set limits for children and to prevent them from viewing media violence and playing video games that depict violence, but parents may want to think carefully about the worldview they want their children to develop. Not all children exposed to violence may become violent, but most can't help but develop part of their worldview based on what they see every day in the media.
The Rise in Screen Time
Today's children (and adults) are spending much more time in front of a screen than ever before. The Kaiser Foundation reports that while children 25 years ago watched an average of less than 2 hours of media per day, today's children now spend 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, only 30 percent of which is supervised by their parents. Even parents who do attempt to supervise their children's screen time report that ratings systems for movies and video games are often inaccurate and underestimate the amount of violence in programming.
But it has become almost impossible to supervise all of children's media use when it takes up almost half of their typical waking day. Many children now use mobile tablets or smartphones to watch media or play games, and the portability of these handheld devices make it more difficult for parents to keep track of their usage. Tracking apps and parental controls can help, as well as placing clear limits on where and when children can view media.
Feed your family the right kind of TV.
Counteracting Culture with Positive Programming
Whether or not viewing violent programming will turn children and adults into perpetrators of violence, the impact of viewing violence is unquestionably negative. John Piper reframes the debate about the negative impacts of media by reminding readers that we are on Earth, not to be entertained, but to be transformed by "beholding the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
There is media available that will encourage people toward this transformation. Pure Flix streams thousands of movies that will uplift and inspire rather than scare and desensitize. and start enjoying thousands of Christian movies, family-friendly originals, movies, TV shows, and educational programming online anytime, from virtually anywhere, on any device, FREE for one month.