TV and Movie Violence: How Grandparents Can Respond

Network news.  Daytime talk shows. Video games. Action movies. Even children’s cartoons, videos and TV shows.
What do these have in common?

A growing trend towards a culture of violence: graphic displays of killings, fighting and emotional and physical abuse as ways to solve problems and conflicts.  3,000+ scientific studies over the past thirty years document the terrible truth about TV and media violence and children.  These studies show a significant increase in aggressive behavior and verbal abuse. Yet, violent television shows, movies and the like continue to be produced and marketed to children. Of note: An Indiana University research study concludes that violence doesn’t add anything to their enjoyment of watching.

Students from Professor Marlene Welch’s (my friend and former colleague) ‘Introduction to Early Childhood Education’ class at Carroll Community College, Westminster, MD want to raise this issue with grandparents and offer some help.  I said I would gladly address this issue with GRAND readers.

As a grandparent, think about this:  What does your grandchild see and hear?

Here’s what the students want you to know:

  • Children who have access to violent scenes on television and in movies, videos and video games begin to view them as appropriate behavior.
  • Violent TV provides young children with “scripts” that they use both in their dramatic play and in real-life interactions.
  • After a while, the children become “numb” to the violence and see it as the way to solve all problems.
  • The more children see violence on TV, the more likely they are to imitate it, particularly in their play.
  • Young children often confuse fantasy and reality.

And, they offer some tips on what you, as grandparents, can do:

  • Pay attention to what TV shows, movies and videos your grands watch and the video games they play.
  • If your grandchild does see violence, talk to him/her about how that kind of violence is not acceptable even though no one on the show was hurt or killed.
  • Remember that play helps children build problem-solving skills and helps them learn how to interact with others and form relationships; so encourage play time.

Whether your grandchildren are at your home or you’re helping care for them or visiting in theirs, real life intervenes and you may have to make lunch, cook dinner or throw in some wash.  While it may be tempting to use TV, movies or videos as a short-term ‘babysitter’ to occupy them or even just when you need a time out from their non-stop activity…Don’t do it!

There are ways you can counter the impact of violent media on your grandchildren.

Imitative VS Creative Play

Young children learn by imitating what they see.  Some imitations are good, while others can be destructive and even violent.  Children might watch their parents or grandparents being nurturing and demonstrate those attitudes with stuffed animals, dolls and even other people.  Children also mimic their parents doing household chores, building things and talking on the phone.  When children imitate violent behavior they have seen on television, in movies, videos and from playing video games, we need to take notice.  Young children whose play often involves violence are at the greatest risk of using violence to solve problems and conflicts.

Start Now

Parents, grandparents and caregivers can help children develop creative ways to play and learn nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts.

  1. Be a role model for your grandchildren by using nonviolent ways to solve problems.  This includes avoiding abusive language as well as voices raised in anger.
  2. Offer opportunities for your grands to play cooperatively with other children.  Encourage them to engage in creative (imaginative) play.
  3. Help them understand how to resolve conflicts by talking about why they are frustrated or angry or what is making them mad.  Then, help them talk about how to resolve the problem verbally, rather than using violence to do so. This takes patience and time.
  4. For older children, help them understand that most people they see on TV and in movies and videos are paid actors.
  5. For younger children, help them understand the difference between real and pretend in age-appropriate ways.
Pretend VS Real

Play a game.

Help children understand real vs pretend by asking young ones questions such as

…Can cars fly? (pretend)  Can cars drive on the road? (real)

…Can cats or dogs talk?  (pretend)  Can they bark and meow? (real)

Try these questions on elementary school-aged children to underscore the difference between super heroes and characters they see on television, movies and cartoons and real people…

…Can a person lift a house? A car?  Can a person jump over a house? (pretend)

…Can a person get hurt crashing a car? (real) Jumping off a cliff? (real)

Use real objects for pretend characters.

Engage in imaginative play with your grandchildren.  Imagine that the a pretend polar bear has come to your house.  Let ‘him’ use your chair to sit at the table, but eat pretend fish. Or, ask your grandchild what to feed the polar bear.  Pull back the covers on your bed for the bear to climb in and sleep through the winter!

Turn household items into pretend anything.

Large appliance boxes, tables and chairs can become theaters, castles, pirate ships, stores and restaurants.  Gather all their stuffed animals and set up ‘zoo cages’ for them using blocks, tables and chairs.  Or collect the small cars and trucks and set up a highway or obstacle course to drive around, and through, with blocks and other objects.

Expand their experiences and knowledge through reading.

While TV and movies do provide experiences for young children, it is the type of play generated by these experiences that can be of concern.  Reading to children provides new vocabulary to use in imaginative (pretend) play; sparks their curiosity; provides positive characters for the children to imitate; gives them new ideas for creative play; and helps develop their imagination.  Remember:  When children are watching TV, videos or movies, they are not using their imagination!

You can help your grandchildren by encouraging healthy emotional and social development and have a long lasting impact on their adult lives.  A child needs to practice and develop strong social skills.  When imitating violent behavior they have seen, they learn aggressive and anti-social skills.  Imaginative and cooperative play as well as positive adult role models help children develop emotionally and socially by learning how to work out conflicts in creative and constructive nonviolent ways.

More information is available on these websites:

http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_tv_violence

http://www.hcplive.com/conferences/AAP_2011/how-media-violence-impacts-children

http://www.thesuccessfulparent.com/children-and-media/the-impact-of-tv-violence-on-children-and-adolescents

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