TV shows, movies and video games are inescapable escapes for most modern kids. With the abundance of consoles, tablets and smartphones in many of today's homes, screen time is quickly becoming the nation's biggest pastime.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)'s Council on Communications and Media is warning parents to help young children steer clear of what they call "virtual violence," arguing the consequences to our kids - and, potentially, to society - is scientifically proven and quite concerning.

A recent statement by the Council explains that virtual violence refers to "all forms of violence that are not experienced physically," including violence on television, in movies, and in first-person shooter games and other realistically violent videogames and apps.

The council cites some worrisome statistics as their basis for curbing exposure to virtual violence:
  • The last largescale study on how much violence children are exposed to during screen time was in 1998 - before tablets, smartphones and more realistic violent games. Even then, researchers found the average American child was exposed to 8,000 murder and 100,000 other acts of violence through media before they entered middle school.
  • In the year 2000, 60% of primetime TV shows and every G-rated movie contained violence.
Researchers looked at the findings from over 400 studies to determine what impact exposure to violence has on kids. What they found, according to the report, was "a significant association between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and physiological arousal."

In other words, witnessing or performing acts of virtual violence increases the likelihood children will take that behavior into the real world.


Thankfully, most children won't become more aggressive or violent by being exposed to virtual violence. However, the Council argues the number of affected kids is higher than the number of people affected by second hand smoke. So, if governments create laws to protect people against the effects of second hand smoke, why would they not do the same to address the affects of virtual violence?

As such, the Council has released a set of recommendations, including the following:
  • Parents should be mindful of what their children are playing and watching. Parents should also try to play games with their children whenever possible in order to get a better sense of what the game is all about.
  • All children under 6 should be on a violence-free media diet, as they do not always understand the difference between reality and fantasy; even cartoon violence falls under this category.
  • The entertainment industry should avoid the glorification of weapons, using human targets, awarding kills, or any type of scenario that promotes hatred, racism, misogyny, homophobia or other types of interpersonal violence.
  • The government should adopt an independent "parent-centric" rating system so parents do not have to rely on the entertainment industry's rating system.
  • Pediatricians should discuss a child's "media diet" with parents during all well-child visits, focusing not only on the quantity of media consumed, but also the quality.
  • The Council encourages pediatricians to advocate for more child-friendly media.
While it's likely safe to say virtual violence isn't going away anytime soon, parents, professionals and government officials can do their job to keep a child's media diet as healthy and age-appropriate as possible.

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