The truth about how violence in media affects kids

Nov 28, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Gerard Launet/Getty

The short answer is: no one really knows. Research shows that viewing — or playing — violent content increases the chance that a child will engage in violent behavior later in life — especially if other risk factors are present, such as growing up in a violent home.

Heavy exposure to violent media can lead to desensitization, too. And parents' choices about their own media intake can affect kids. A study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that parents who watched a lot of movies were more likely to say it was OK for younger kids to watch movies that had R-rated violence and sexual content.

You won't be able to avoid all exposure to violent media. The entertainment industry is always going to try to capture audiences with extreme imagery that tops whatever came before. In your own home, you have a lot of control over what your kids watch, see and play. Research shows that kids whose parents actively manage their media consume less and make quality choices on their own.

It's really easy to find media that's free of violence and that your kids will enjoy. There may be a time when your kid is ready to handle more violent media, and you can introduce it age-appropriately and discuss it as a family. In the meantime, choose movies that aren't too scary, find alternatives to violent video games and seek out media that helps kids develop empathy.