Violence, video games, and sex: what effect does it have on children and adolescents? The latest contribution to this debate comes in a book recently published in Australia.
“Growing Up Fast and Furious,” is a collection of essays edited by Wayne Warburton and Danya Braunstein (The Federation Press).
In his contribution Warburton, Deputy Director of the Children and Families Research Center at Macquarie University (Sydney), noted that in the United States children aged 8-18 are exposed to an average of almost 11 hours of media each day. Children in other countries might not reach this level, but they are not far behind, he added.
In recent years media is not only more portable but it is also easier for children to access it in multiple places within and outside the home. This means it is increasingly difficult for parents to monitor their children’s media consumption, Warburton observed.
Looking at the research Warburton commented that media is a powerful teacher, for both good and bad, and the effects can be both short and long-term.
John P. Murray, who has been researching children’s social development for almost 40 years in the United States in a number of academic position, looked into the matter of the effects of media violence.
Some decades ago studies clearly demonstrate that the viewing of violence and aggressive behaviour are clearly related, but they do not establish a cause and effect relationship.
More recent studies do, however, lead to the conclusion that viewing violence does affect the attitudes and behaviour of viewers, he said.
Violent video games was the topic of an essay by Warburton and Craig A. Anderson, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University. Video games can enhance the lives of children and adolescents they said, but exposure to anti-social and violent video games increases the likelihood of a range of negative outcomes, they warned.
Video games, they noted, can improve visual and spatial skills and can also be a valuable instrument in teaching children. They can also lead to less desirable outcomes, such as addiction to video games, attention deficit, and increased aggression.
Spending more hours playing video games is linked to poorer school performance and research has shown that excessive exposure to violence leads to desensitisation to violence and a decrease in empathy.
In fact, the U.S. military forces use video games for training purposes and the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, responsible for the the massacre on Utoya island in 2011, stated that he used computer games to help him prepare for his attack.
This is not to claim that media violence is the sole or even the most important source of violent behavior, the authors cautioned. Other factors, such as a violent home environment, are, however, hard to deal with while media violence can be controlled more readily.
Cyber-bullying was an issue examined by Ed Donnerstein in his essay. Donnerstein, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona, said that various surveys in different countries indicate that between 15 to 35% of teens report being bullied online. Moreover, 10 to 20% admit to bullying others.
Safe at home?
The place where a child was considered to be most secure, at home, has now become a place where they can be a victim, he noted. Moreover, because of the anonymity of the aggressor and the permanence in cyberspace of the material the effects can be harsher than bullying in person.
Louise Newman, a professor of developmental psychology at Melbourne’s Monash University, examined the subject of sexualization. This topic goes much further than a simplistic opposition between censorship as opposed to openness, she affirmed.
There is an increasing body of evidence pointing to the potential harm of the sexualization of children, particularly those of primary school age, she said.
“Of particular concern is the way in which sexualization impacts on self-development,” Newman commented. This has led to worries about the relationship between media representations of the ideal body and the self-esteem of girls.
“The representations of girls and women as sexual objects and boys and men as sexual predators are ubiquitous and particularly reinforced in some media and music sub-cultures,” she added.
Alan Hayes and Carole Jean, both from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, commented that the exposure of children to violent, sexualized, or exploitative material is at odds with the aspiration to be a child-friendly society.
A culture that engenders exploitation and desensitisation leads to what they termed “the democratization of dysfunction.”
While there is still much to learn about the impact of the media on children the jury is not out they affirmed and there is solid evidence of the ill effects of a media diet rich in violence and sexualized material.
What is also clear, they said, is that there is a gap that needs to be closed between knowledge and action. While it is certainly true that individuals need to make appropriate choices society does have a collective responsibility that cannot be overlooked, they concluded.