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Are violent movies, video games, and television programs harmful to my child’s education?

Lara Ashmore replies: The answer is “yes” — experts agree that violent media is harmful to children and their education. Education is the act of acquiring knowledge; therefore, any activity that impedes this knowledge acquisition is undesirable and problematic. There are many factors that contribute to a child’s education, but popular media such as movies, video games and television are profoundly influential because statistics show that the average child spends more time in these activities above all other activities except for sleep.

Research over the past 20 years has shown that violent television and, more recently, violent movies and video games can negatively affect brain development, sleep patterns, grades, mental and physical health and social behavior. Hundreds of reputable studies have shown that children who view violence are more likely to settle conflicts with violence, more fearful of the world and less sensitive to the suffering of others (NAEYC Statement on Media Violence in Children’s Lives, 1998).

Despite popular beliefs, young children are not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality (The Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children, 2000), and studies show that media violence negatively affects children’s well-being. Children who spend the majority of their time watching movies, television or playing video games are less likely to be creative thinkers. Children with anti-social behavior, academic troubles, health and behavior problems have a very hard time succeeding in school and their problems often affect their peers. For teachers and parents who face a multitude of challenges in the home school or classroom, media violence is a major factor undermining a healthy learning environment.

Parents can educate themselves and even their children on the various ratings systems used for movies, TV and video games. While these ratings are not a guarantee to protect children from violence, they represent an effort from the industry to help educate parents and children on age-appropriate material. Another proactive approach is to educate older children on media literacy issues and to help them develop their own ability to make positive choices when it comes to media.

For younger children, however, parents may need to carefully review and select content that is non-violent and developmentally appropriate. A wonderful book by Dr. Michele Borba, Building Moral Intelligence : The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing, provides recommended media to exemplify desirable virtues. Resources such as and Children’s Software Review magazine provide detailed content descriptions plus parent and child reviews to make finding positive media an easier task.

Despite various strategies to counteract media violence, the consensus from experts is that the best solution for parents is to limit children’s exposure to violent media. Many variables influence our children’s education, and violent media is one factor that parents can minimize in order to provide children with the best possible chance for success.

Learn More:

NAEYC Statement on Media Violence in Children’s Lives
Joint Statement on The Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children Congressional Public Health Summit July 26, 2000
Statistics on children and media compiled by the University of Michigan
Lion and Lamb Project Research, resources, and parent action kit

Detailed Movie Reviews
Software, Web site and Video Game Reviews (subscription-based content)
Television and Movie Ratings Information
Video Game Rating System
Center for Media Literacy Media Lit Kit (Free)

Building Moral Intelligence : The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing by Michele Borba
Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them by Joanne Cantor, Ph.D.
See No Evil : A Guide to Protecting Our Children from Media Violence by Madeline Levine
The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the Media's Effect on Our Children by James P. Steyer

© Lara Ashmore

Lara Ashmore, Ph.D., M.Ed., works with the Robert Muller Center for Living Ethics to explore creative uses of technology and conduct parent and teacher education workshops on a variety of topics including multiple intelligences, parenting in the digital age, multimedia scrapbooking and digital storytelling. Contact her at Inspire Brilliance.

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