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Health & Parenting

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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 WebMD.

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 asks.

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 security.

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 Hagan.

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 away.

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Reviewed on April 16, 2007

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