How do violent toys and television programmes affect the attitudes and behaviour of young children? My son has been spending a lot of time watching violent cartoons and playing with the “spin-off” action figures marketed by the shows’ producers. Should I be concerned?
Perhaps we should begin by stating that, in our view, parents need to exercise discernment and be careful not to make so-called “violent” play into a bigger issue than it really is. This observation is especially relevant where boys are concerned. Little boys are naturally drawn to games like cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians and playing with toy soldiers. It’s just the way they’re wired.
When a boy engages in play that centres around themes of right and wrong and good versus evil, his actions demonstrate that he’s in the process of developing an inward moral compass. For the most part, toy guns are simply a part of this kind of play.
There can be exceptions to this rule, of course. If play becomes dangerous, destructive or mean-spirited, parents need to step in and administer swift and firm consequences. This is an ever-present possibility in contemporary society, where movies, TV shows, music and computer/videogames are all-pervasive, and where their content can be incredibly violent.
In our view, this trend toward extremely violent “entertainment” represents a dangerous departure from the typical combat games in which children have engaged for hundreds of years.
Research demonstrates that, due to the influence of mirror neurons in the brain, kids who view violent media are more likely to become violent than those who are not similarly exposed. Violent TV programmes and movies (especially those designed for adults) are more potent in this regard than cartoons and commercials; and due to their interactive nature, violent video and computer games are the most potent of all.
In general, violent media stimulate fears and anxieties and thus heighten the “fight or flight” response in children. Studies show that measurable physiological changes occur while a child is watching a violent movie or playing a violent videogame: The pulse rate quickens, eyes dilate, hands sweat, the mouth goes dry and breathing accelerates. The emotional impact of this experience increases the more it is repeated.
Here again, the gender of the child in question is a crucial consideration. As a rule, girls tend to shy away from violent behaviour (a “flight” response), whereas boys display a greater proclivity toward imitating or adopting it (a “fight” response).
Age and developmental maturity are also important factors: Very small children (toddlers) are more concrete in their perceptions, and thus more easily and seriously alarmed by violence. Older children (five years and above), on the other hand, have a greater capacity to objectify, rationalise and distance themselves from it.
This article was extracted by Focus on the Family Malaysia (www.family.org.my) with permission.