Studies reveal that violent images make teenagers less sensitive to violence which, in turn, promotes aggressive attitudes and behaviour
The world is witnessing a spurt in violence among adolescents. India too is undergoing a social transition. Consequently, youngsters are exposed to several risks for violent and aggressive behaviour. Studies reveal that violent images make teenagers less sensitive to violence, which in turn promotes aggressive attitudes and behaviour. These feed on one another and become stronger with time. So, breaking the cycle is important. This can be done either at the belief level or at the behavioural level.
“With older children, we can no longer assume that intervention at thought level can change behaviour, and so we have to work at all levels. It is also important to intervene at younger ages,” says Dr. Swati Yashwant Bhave, Executive Director, Association of Adolescent and Child Care in India (AACCI). In 2012, Mumbai-based AACCI surveyed schools in Mumbai and Gurgaon, and found that aggression was on the rise. Despite considerable research on violence in films and television, hardly any steps are being taken to contain it or draw up a code of conduct. And children know exactly what they want to watch. It’s been established that the media has a psychological impact on children’s minds, shaping attitudes and affecting long-term behaviour. With television shows and games available for children at a much younger age, exposure to the media is increasingly starting young.Response to violence
Most parents think children watch films and television shows for fun. But little do they realise that many scenes contain hidden messages of violence. “It is possible for children to perceive people as unkind after excessively watching violent television programmes and movies or playing games. This is because they may relate real people to fictional characters,” says Dr. Anjali Chhabria, consultant psychiatrist in Mumbai. A child is preoccupied with ‘winning’ or ‘surviving’ in a videogame, thereby unintentionally perceiving people (in significant relationships such as parents, siblings, friends and peers) as ‘attacking’ or ‘threatening’. Some television programmes emphasise negative role characters, such as people who cause conflict between loved ones, and appear satisfied regarding someone else’s loss (of any kind). As a result, the child learns to understand that such people are ‘not good’ and can be selfish. This may contribute to why he or she grows up having difficulty trusting people, she says.
Even seemingly innocuous cartoon shows and crime serials have become the new icons of TV violence, to be imitated in real life. The heroes in films or games who fight villains are depicted as ‘macho’ or fearless. Children may identify themselves with them, admire them and want to behave like them. “If a child already has a propensity for violence, it only gets aggravated after watching violence. If a child has no tendency, even then excessive exposure helps him ‘learn’ a response”, says Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist, psychotherapist in Mumbai. So, he tries fisticuffs to manage situations. Instead of learning coping skills, negotiation, ways to barter, he learns that ‘might is right’!Role models
Most popular role models have had a negative effect on viewership. Smoking by fictional characters may appear fashionable to children as they may feel it is okay to smoke cigarettes. Often, children want to be like their role model. They imitate their actions, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Parents must discourage children from watching violence in films and TV shows, as it has a distinct negative effect on their personality as they grow up. Children must be taught to differentiate between what’s real and what’s make-believe. “Parents can explain to children the negative consequences of behaving aggressively. For example, a real person gets hurt, while in the virtual realm there is no physical or emotional pain,” says Anjali. The child may be fearful as he/she may perceive the environment as threatening. This is because his/her mind has absorbed violent images. He lacks confidence, interpersonal skills, and have a tendency to remain aloof, tense or worried in social situations. “More startlingly, studies reveal that an increasing number of young girls are showing a marked predilection for physical violence,” says Dr. Bhave.
Television advertisements too can have a negative impact on a child’s psyche. Their minds are not developed enough to understand if a product is necessary for them, or if their parents can afford it. If parents can’t, it creates another kind of violence. The greatest danger of television violence comes in families where very young kids are given a free hand to watch what they want. Children, who spend after-school hours alone because their parents are at work, are at the greatest risk, as television assumes the role of a teacher and can influence young minds. Playing video games for hours has been known to adversely affect school performance, increase aggression, increase weight gain, induce epileptic seizures, and cause postural, muscular and skeletal disorders.Need for discipline
Research has shown that good parenting is important to prevent aggressive behaviour in children. Keeping an eye on what they watch helps. “Parents need to control exposure to things inappropriate for their age. Many TV shows and movies are for restricted watching. It is the parents who don’t adhere to these recommendations,” says Varkha. The more children are encouraged to have a life outside the virtual realm, the better. Children should not spend more than one hour a day in front of any screen, she says. Parents themselves must avoid watching violent programmes in the presence of their children. Their angry and impulsive actions such as throwing cell phones or breaking valuable things also impact the child. “Often, children emulate the aggression demonstrated by parents and teachers and the latter should understand this,” advises Dr. Bhave.