Effects of the exposure to violence on youth

GLENN ELLIS | 3/27/2017, 8:06 a.m.
Violence among youths is an important public health problem.
Youth Violence Data Centers for Disease Control

Strategies for Well-Being

Violence among youths is an important public health problem. Some of the documented reasons are the early onset of aggressive behavior in childhood, social problem-solving skill deficits, exposure to violence, poor parenting practices and family functioning, negative peer influences, access to firearms, and neighborhoods characterized by high rates of poverty, transiency, family disruption and social isolation.

But there is a burning question that seems to get lost in the conversation:

Does televised violence result in aggressive behavior?

We need to look no further than all the recent school shootings and the escalating rate of youth homicides, particularly among urban adolescents, to answer this question.

Youth Violence statistics show teenagers are becoming more violent.

It’s virtually impossible to keep your kid in a violence-free bubble. Ninety percent of movies, 68 percent of video games and 60 percent of TV shows show some depictions of violence, according to the research on the topic.

Children who watch a lot of TV are less aroused by violent scenes than are those who only watch a little; in other words, they’re less bothered by violence in general and less likely to see anything wrong with it.

In general, violence on television and in movies is often a sure-fire method for conflict resolution. It is efficient, frequent and seemingly without consequences. Even the heroes are violent and as such, are rewarded for their behavior. They become role models for youth. It is “cool” to carry an automatic weapon and use it to knock off the “bad guys.” The typical scenario of using violence for a righteous cause translates, for many young people, in daily life into a justification for using violence to retaliate against people whom they feel have “violated them.” The result: Vulnerable youth who have been victimized use violent means to solve problems.

Exposure to violence can limit children’s potential and increase their likelihood of becoming involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system. These children are often more likely to develop a substance use disorder; suffer from depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder; and fail to thrive in school

The Journal of Pediatrics reports that 40.9 percent of children and youth had more than one direct experience of violence, crime or abuse in 2014. In 2014, 24 percent of children in another study had witnessed violence in their homes, schools and communities in the past year, and 38 percent during their lifetimes. Do we think this is acceptable? Do we think they will just “shake it off” and move on with their lives?

Even if a lot of attention is given to the effects of violent movies, cartoons and video games on children, this isn’t the only place they are exposed to these images. Increasingly horrifying and graphic pictures are shown daily in the news from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other violence taking place around the world.

All of us know well that we can’t (as adults) just turn on the TV, open up a web browser or scroll through Twitter without being assaulted with notifications of a new world disaster (or two, or three). Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, alerts of shootings, plane crashes, ISIS beheadings, crime, police homicides, war and human rights violations are constant – and this incessant news of violence and destruction may be messing with our heads.