Shedding Light in the Darkness

Impact of Virtual Violence on Children


The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement on the impact of virtual violence on children in the journal Pediatrics. It’s calling for action to protect children from exposure to excessive amounts of onscreen violence, which includes “first-person shooter games and other realistic video games and applications.”

“In the United States, exposure to media violence is becoming an inescapable component of children’s lives. With the rise in new technologies, such as tablets and new gaming platforms, children and adolescents increasingly are exposed to what is known as “virtual violence.” This form of violence is not experienced physically; rather, it is experienced in realistic ways via new technology and ever more intense and realistic games. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to be concerned about children’s exposure to virtual violence and the effect it has on their overall health and well-being. This policy statement aims to summarize the current state of scientific knowledge regarding the effects of virtual violence on children’s attitudes and behaviors and to make specific recommendations for pediatricians, parents, industry, and policy makers.

“Media violence is woven into the fabric of American children’s lives. As recently as the year 2000, every G-rated movie contained violence, as did 60% of prime time television shows. In 1998, the most comprehensive assessment of screen violence was completed. It estimated that the typical child will have seen 8000 murders and 100 000 other acts of violence (including rape and assault) before middle school. The 1998 report was limited to television, which was appropriate at the time, because it was the primary platform exposing children to violence. Today’s children experience screen violence on many different platforms, including computers, video games, and touch-screen devices, in addition to longstanding platforms, such as televisions.

“Understanding the risks of media violence can be complicated when research studies have found mixed results using varying methods. Fortunately, meta-analyses have been performed to combine the available research findings and to provide an overall estimate of the risks. Summarizing the results of >400 studies including violent media of all types, researchers found there was a significant association between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and physiologic arousal.

“A sizable majority of media researchers both in pediatrics and psychology believe that existing data show a significant link between virtual violence and aggression.

“Although there is broad scientific consensus that virtual violence increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, there has been little public action to help mitigate children’s exposure to it. In fact, the single broadest legislative action taken by the state of California, which made it illegal to sell video games labeled for mature audiences to minors, was struck down by the US Supreme Court. It is important to note, however, that the ruling was not based on the absence of data linking media violence to aggression.

“Pediatricians should consider making children’s “media diets” an essential part of all well-child examinations. In particular, emphasis must be placed on guiding the content of media and not only limiting quantity.

“Parents should be mindful of what shows their children watch and which games they play. When possible, they should coplay games with their children so as to have a better sense of what the games entail. Young children (under the age of 6 years) need to be protected from virtual violence. Parents should understand that young children do not always distinguish fantasy from reality. Cartoon violence can seem very real, and it can have detrimental effects. Furthermore, first-person shooter games, in which killing others is the central theme, are not appropriate for any children.”

In an accompanying editorial, pediatric researchers from Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Stanford University, among others, said the rise of smartphones and tablets have given children “unprecedented” access to scenes of violence both real and fictional.

“Now youth can produce, view, and share problematic content, including images of community violence, school violence, sexual violence, and police violence on their smart, portable devices,” the researchers said. “Some social media feeds even provide unsolicited and unwelcome exposure to acts of actual terrorism, gender violence, and war.”


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