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The Conscientious Parent's Guide to Expert Opinion on Media Violence

Updated on June 4, 2013

Expert Opinion is Very Clear-Media Violence Causes Aggression

There seems to be a lot of confusion among parents regarding the so-called “debate” about the effects of media violence on children and teens. Adding to this confusion is a handful of studies that show no link between violent media and aggressive behavior, and some journalists’ insistence on reporting about said studies.

Let’s be clear on this issue: The vast majority of experts in medicine, pediatrics and phycology agree that violent media can cause increased aggression, especially among children.

In order to illustrate this, let’s take a look at the conclusions of The American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, The American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Psychiatric Association, and The American Academy of Pediatrics as they pertain to media violence and its effects on children. Each association’s expert opinion has been consolidated below. All quotes have been extracted from their websites and/or official presentations they have given:

The American Medical Association

The American Medical Association: Agrees that there is direct, causal link between violent media and aggression. In a presentation on violence, they officially state:

Violence is learned by exposure to violent media.

By age 18, a child has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV and other media.

-Studies suggest that children confronted incessantly by violent images may become immune to the horror of violence and may come to accept violence as a way to solve problems (AMA, 1996; Donnerstein et al, 1994)…Become informed consumers of the media. Be critical about what you and your family see on TV or at the movies, what you listen to on the radio, and look at on the computer. Watching excessive violence can make you a different person—and not a better one.

The American Psychological Association

The American Psychological Association: Agrees that there is a direct, causal link between violent media and aggression. In fact, they have an entire section of their website devoted to debunking the common myths associated with video game studies. The APA also cites a 15-year long study that proves “Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior.” It also states “Violence has many causes, including…exposure to violent media…” and has the following statement on its website:

Whereas the great majority of research studies have found a relation between viewing mass media violence and behaving aggressively; Whereas the conclusion drawn on the basis of over 30 years of research and a sizeable number of experimental and field investigations (Huston, et al., 1992; NIMH, 1982; Surgeon General, 1972) is that viewing mass media violence leads to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behavior, particularly in children, and has a long-lasting effect on behavior and personality, including criminal behavior; Whereas viewing violence desensitizes the viewer to violence, resulting in calloused attitudes regarding violence toward others and a decreased likelihood to take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs; Whereas viewing violence increases viewers' tendencies for becoming involved with or exposing themselves to violence; Whereas viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and mistrust of others…

They then lay out a set of suggestions guidelines, including asking media producers to provide programming with less violence, and they urge technologies which can prevent the broadcast of violent media to children in the home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics

The American Academy of Pediatrics: Agrees that there is a direct, causal link between violent media and aggression. They formally state:

Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.

The American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association: Agrees that there is a direct, causal link between violent media and aggression. They have a formal statement on their website that says, in part:

The debate is over. Over the last three decades, the one overriding finding in research on the mass media is that exposure to media portrayals of violence increases aggressive behavior in children. The National Institute of Mental Health has reported that "In magnitude, exposure to television violence is as strongly correlated with aggressive behavior as any other behavioral variable that has been measured." In addition to increased aggression, countless studies have demonstrated that exposure to depictions of violence causes desensitization and creates a climate of fear.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Agrees that there is a direct causal link between violent media and aggression: They state the following on their website-

Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may:

  • become "immune" or numb to the horror of violence
  • gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems
  • imitate the violence they observe on television; and
  • identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers

Extensive viewing of television violence by children causes greater aggressiveness. Sometimes, watching a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. Children who view shows in which violence is very realistic, frequently repeated or unpunished, are more likely to imitate what they see. Children with emotional, behavioral, learning or impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by TV violence. The impact of TV violence may be immediately evident in the child's behavior or may surface years later. Young people can even be affected when the family atmosphere shows no tendency toward violence.

Joint Statement to Congress

All of these expert organizations issued a joint statement to the Congressional Public Health Summit in 2000, which reads, in part:

We, the undersigned, represent the public health community. As with any community there exists a diversity of viewpoints - but with many matters, there is also consensus. Although a wide variety of viewpoints on the import and impact of entertainment violence on children may exist outside the public health community, within it, there is a strong consensus on many of the effects on children's health, well-being and development… The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.

No Debate About It-Violent Media Causes Aggression

Folks, these are the experts. As they say in their joint statement, outside the health community there is a “debate” about the effects of violent media on violence. Inside the health community, the debate is over. A consensus has been reached. No matter how many journalists write articles touting the fringe studies of a handful of rogue scientists, the evidence amassed by thousands of doctors and 30 years of research cannot be undone.

If you are still scratching your head and wondering why these experts would come to this consensus when you feel you just know it’s not true, this article, on why people are in denial about the effects of violent media, might help you to understand; or this one, which is similar, about why people are in denial about the harmful effects of video games.

You see, the medical community isn’t even discussing this issue anymore. They’ve moved on to a totally different discussion which is- what makes someone obstinate in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence?

So, what do you think about the experts’ opinions? Are they all simply wrong? Weigh in below!

Violent Video Games Pose Health Risks

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