How Violent is Too Violent in Kid’s TV

rxtv-logoRecently on For Kids Entertainment, I had a giveaway that promoted the CW line up of action packed superhero cartoons and one reader wrote in wondering if the violence was okay for her 4 year old son. This question got me thinking: how violent is too violent for kid’s TV? It seems a handful of upcoming kids’ movies coming out have a scarier theme and of course superhero cartoons would be nothing if there weren’t villains. Breezy Mama turned to Nancy Mramor Ph.D., an educational, health and clinical psychologist, and Media Resource (who we also turned to for our piece Is TV Harming Your Kids? back in 2010) to find out the repercussions of kid’s watching too much violence.

What are some cons to kids watching violence, such as violence in kid’s cartoons?

Children act out more aggressively after watching violence if there is an opportunity to do so. Also, if the hero’s actions involve breaking rules to get a positive outcome, they should be flagged and accompanied with parental intervention to explain that it doesn’t work that way in the real world. For example, you can’t break into a building illegally even if it is to get something to help someone.

How old should kids be in order to watch superhero cartoons, which inevitably have some sort of violence, such as Iron Man or Star Wars?

They’re not for preschool, but follow the ratings for those movies and restrict viewing. For example, if the kids are watching Star Wars, then they should not watch violent cartoons that same day. Such movies and cartoons should be viewed by children old enough to comprehend the content and understand what they are about. There is some variation among children’s levels of cognitive maturity, so readiness varies. Some parental explanation may be needed at any age, and parents should watch the shows with their kids to help them understand the consequences of heroes’ actions.

Is it helpful that they are rooting for the good guy?

Maybe. It depends on whether the hero is a good guy or has mixed traits of hero and villain, like the bad guy who steps up and does something good, but then goes back to his old life, so choose your heroes carefully. Spiderman is a good role model, as is Luke Skywalker, especially if parents point out both the obvious and the subtle positive messages in both movies.

How can a mom explain to her child that they can’t watch their favorite super hero if they aren’t old enough to understand the violence?

Some superheroes and cartoon characters are rude, bullying, or aggressive in ways that are socially inappropriate. They do not give children the chance to see the outcomes of how such behavior affects others. Viewing these shows should be avoided or at least have a parental explanation regarding the consequences to the victim. Telling a child that they are too young, or that the show has too much violence is an acceptable explanation and children will learn to respect your boundaries. You might say that while the show has some good things (entertaining, good actors) that there is so much violence that it outweighs the good, showing children how to weigh pros and cons. They will have to make good viewing choices for the rest of their lives, so it makes sense to teach them how to do so now.

What are some repercussions that can result from a child watching too much violence?

Very important question!!! The brain can become desensitized to violence through repeated exposure and from children “steeling themselves” against it, much like a doctor who must administer painful treatments does. The brain has a very complex way to address violence ( MNS – mirror neuron system) that eventually holds too many violent images making them difficult to forget. They may

  • have nightmares
  • feel that the world is not a safe place after ingesting too much violence or
  • become agitated by too many aggressive brain images in the memory

What sort of violence is suitable for kids and how violent is too violent?

Again, follow the ratings, but it is always acceptable to err on the side of caution. Violence always has a context and consequences so watch for both of these factors. Is the context for the violence expected, such as in a suspense or crime program? Or is it violence for the sake of violence? Are the consequences for the violent acts clearly appropriate and in line with the actions or not? Always look at these two factors

Back in 2010, you broke down how much TV kids should be watching by age — Do you still agree with:

0-2: American Academy of Pediatrics says NO TV! *No, Sesame Street and other educational programs are useful at age 2.

2-4: 1-2 hours a day

4-6: 2-3 hours a day

7+ : 3+ hours

Anything else you’d like to share about violence on TV, and even in movies, and children or for kid’s television viewing in general?

The screen is saturated with violence and it is, unfortunately, unavoidable. Making children aware of how they feel after viewing (afraid, wary, mistrustful, upset stomach or butterflies, fidgety) is a wonderful way to teach children how to gauge how much is too much TV and what is and is not healthy viewing. It’s a skill for a lifetime, as adults need to take a step back and do the same!

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