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Media Violence Does Affect Children, Medical Groups Say

From the WebMD Archives

July 26, 2000 (Washington) -- Whether they see it in professional wrestling or G-rated movies, the result is the same, four national health care associations warned Wednesday: The violence to which American children are exposed in the name of entertainment is having an effect on their values and behavior.

"Its effects are measurable and long lasting," the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry say in a joint statement. "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."

According to the joint statement, the measurable results of violent entertainment include:

  • Using violence to settle conflicts because of beliefs that violence is acceptable;
  • Failing to help victims of violence after becoming desensitized to violence in real life;
  • Seeing the world is a violent and mean place because of chronic fears of becoming a victim; and
  • Regularly acting in an aggressive manner because of a higher tolerance for aggressive behavior.

Since 1972, public health officials have issued more than 1,000 studies to demonstrate the link between media violence and aggressive behavior in children. But lawmakers say the joint statement is a turning point in the battle against entertainment violence, comparing it to the medical community's unanimous declaration that cigarettes can cause cancer.

"Among the professional community, there's no longer any doubt about this," says Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. "For the first time, you have the four major medical and psychiatric associations coming together and stating flatly that violence in entertainment has a direct effect on violence in our children."

Along with Sens. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, and Reps. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and Tim Roemer, D-Indiana, Brownback hopes to pressure producers of movies, music, television shows, and computer games to adopt a voluntary code of conduct.

"We are not here today to dictate to Hollywood what they can or cannot do," Brownback said. "It is not the role or right of us in Congress. But the public deserves to know the truth about the public health risk and dangers of exposing their children to violence."

Although Congress may not adopt any new laws, Roemer says, the hope is that publicizing these findings will lead to community action. For example, his home state of Indiana has restricted the distribution of violent video games, thanks to the lack of voluntary action by the entertainment industry, he tells WebMD.

To further highlight this issue, these lawmakers on Wednesday also held a public summit featuring panelists from the four associations, aimed at reviving the discussion on the health risks posed by violence in movies, music, television in video games.

Over the past few years of talks with entertainment-industry representatives, their executives have refused to budge even an inch, says panelist Michael Brody, MD. Brody, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, has participated in a number of rating discussions with members of the movie industry.

Calls to the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Broadcasters were not returned Wednesday. But these associations, along with other representatives of the entertainment industry, have maintained that there is no proven connection between violence in the media and aggressive behavior, and that young people know that television shows, movies, and video games are simply fantasy.

Edward Hill, MD, a family physician and member of the AMA's board of trustees, disagrees. Considering that 18-month-old children act out what they see on television, and that children see an average of about 80,000 acts of violence by the time they turn 18, it would be foolish to assume there is no influence, he says.

Still, without the adoption of new laws, change is unlikely, Brody says. "There is no show business, unless there is business," he says, acknowledging that violence contributes to ratings.

That makes parents' role key, says Brownback, who believes that the entertainment industry can be influenced even without new laws. The need for change will become obvious, he tells WebMD. Cigarette makers initially were reluctant to discuss smoking, but over time, it became obvious even to them that the issue simply would not die, he says.