Violent Images Impact Kids Differently
Experts offer age-appropriate tips to maintain your child's sense of security in a world bombarded by scenes of violence.
Children 6 to 12
Typically, children in this age group "lack the depth of
consequences," Hagan tells WebMD.
That's why it's important for parents to make themselves available to
discuss what's behind the violent images their children witness. "Tell your
children repeatedly that you're there to talk about it with them," Salamon
To make such a conversation effective, parents need to know where to start.
"Ask how much they know and understand about what's going on. Don't
automatically assume anything," Hagan says.
It's likely initiating a conversation will lead to ongoing dialogue. "Be
available to your children. As they process the information, they'll be coming
back to you," Hagan says.
When it comes to teens' exposure to violent images, parents can and should
take a direct, involved approach, Salamon says. "Go over the news, read the
newspaper together, discuss what's going on," he suggests.
Older children exposed to violent images can find it empowering to be part
of a solution. For instance, if a natural disaster strikes, parents may suggest
that their children contact the local Red Cross chapter to see how they can
volunteer to help.
When kids get involved, they gain a sense of control, explains Hagan.
"It makes them feel like they're making a difference," she tells
Older children may also find comfort in developing a plan of action, should
a catastrophic event touch their own lives, suggests Brian Chu, PhD, assistant
professor of psychology at Rutgers University.
"Problem-solve with your child," he says. This might include plans
on how parents and children can maintain contact with one another in the event
of a tragedy, like getting in touch by cell phone. The level of detail parents
offer during such a discussion should depend on the age, maturity level, and
general anxiety level of the child, explains Chu.
Reduce Excessive Exposure at Any Age
Most experts agree that children, regardless of age, should not be exposed
to an excessive amount of violent images. Seeing a bomb explode is one thing.
Watching it detonate repeatedly can make a single incident seem much grander in
scale, particularly to an audience of young children.
Take, for example, coverage of 9/11 events. "Little kids kept seeing
those images, and they thought there were lots of planes," says Kaslow.
Around-the-clock news coverage from multiple sources makes it difficult to
limit exposure. "It's constant. We have 24-hour news stations, which leads
people to believe they live in an unsafe environment," Villani tells
So it's up to parents to monitor exposure. "TV shouldn't be background
noise, particularly 24-hour news shows. That visual image is enticing, but
children can't necessarily process it," Villani says.
Fear is one consequence of excessive exposure; unwanted behavior changes are
another. "The literature has concluded that, in some cases, repeated
exposure to violence heightens neurochemical changes in the brain that
correlate with aggressive behavior," Salamon tells WebMD.
Plus, lots of children need a break from the real-life violence they
confront in everyday life. "Thirty five percent of children are sexually
abused over time. Seventy percent of children in urban environments are exposed
to violence. Why would we want to exposure them to even more?" Salamon