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How Much Does On-Screen Violence Affect Kids? Probably More Than You Think

A new AAP policy statement cautions parents about how much seeing violence, real or pretend, on TV affects our kids.

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I don't watch the news anymore when my kids are around, because I'm afraid of what they might see. From police shootings to terror attacks, it seems every time I turn on the television, there is more and more violence playing out on our streets, near and far. Now a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics says my caution may be well-founded. Because seeing violence in video games, television shows, and movies is very much linked with aggressive behavior and thoughts and angry feelings in kids.

"Screen violence, particularly when it is real but even if it is virtual, is quite traumatic for children, regardless of age," said Dimitri Christakis, M.D., MPH, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital, according to CNN. It's not surprising; the prevalence of violence in this world is traumatic for adults!

Dr. Christakis went on to tell CNN about the potential effects of kids seeing coverage of the attack in Nice, France, "It is not uncommon to see increases in nightmares, sleep disturbances, and increased general anxiety in the wake of these events. While it is true that the horrific events of this past week can happen at any time, the real risk to individuals remains low. Children need [that] reassurance."

Dr. Christakis also shared this tip for how to monitor the violence kids see on television and in games and movies with CNN: "Parents should be mindful of their children's media diet and reduce virtual violence, especially if their child shows any aggressive tendencies."

I say, why wait for that to happen? If we know how screen violence affects our kids, let's do our best to limit their exposure, while still taking the time to discuss world events, when age appropriate.

Meanwhile, Dr. Christakis also advised that parents tell children there are mostly good people in the world, and that we should balance out the scary news kids may see with stories of people helping one another. He does not recommend, however, that we completely shelter our kids from virtual violence. In fact, Dr. Christakis says there is a benefit to kids seeing some violence, as previous studies have shown exposure enhances kids' social and emotional competence.

Ultimately, as the doctor pointed out to CNN, "We know from hundreds of studies on thousands of children that there is a link between 'virtual violence' and real-world aggression. On average, the effect is in what we would deem the small to moderate range, but equivalent to the link between passive smoke exposure and lung cancer—something that municipalities have reacted to by enacting non-smoking ordinances."

Wow. That's all I need to hear to hope my kids will just be into "Sophia the First" for many years to come.

What is your take?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.