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.
Reduce Excessive Exposure at Any Age continued...
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
Assess Level of Fear
When it comes to assessing the effect of violent images on children, parents
need to consider more than age. "It also depends on the particular child.
Some are way more sensitive than others," Kaslow tells WebMD.
By carefully evaluating a child's reaction first, parents can avoid creating
an atmosphere of fear where one doesn't exist. "Talk and listen in a way
that allows children to express their own potential fears. Don't assume that
they're having a reaction that they may not be [having," says Chu.
Build a Secure Atmosphere
While parents can't always know how their children will react to violent
images, they can take concrete steps to create and maintain an atmosphere of
Providing a secure home environment probably tops the list. "When
children can at least know that their home is a safe place, that eases their
anxiety level," Kaslow tells WebMD.
Putting violent events into perspective helps too. "Tell them the events
are rare and that, generally, the world is a safe place," suggests
Despite parents' best efforts to help children maintain a sense of security
and control over their lives in the midst of troubling images, anxiety levels
may remain high.
"If it seems like an obsession that's consuming their thoughts or
actions, then you need to address it," Kaslow says.
Because one thing is certain -- the world's violence is not going to go