A study claims to have found a link between lower media consumption and decreasing aggression in children

As with so many other things, the controversy as to whether children’s exposure to violence in the media increases their propensity to violence or lowers their inhibitions remains unsolved. In contrast to the usual studies, scientists have now shown that a program leading to less consumption of television, videos and computer games has led to a reduction in aggression.

The authors of the study "effects of reducing children’s television and video game use on aggressive behavior"(archives of pediatrics and adolescent medicine. Vol. 155 no. 1, january 2001) are quite sure that there is a relationship between the portrayal of violence in the media and aggressive behavior. This was suggested by over 1000 studies. Violent depictions in the media are supposed to directly demand aggressiveness or the tendency to resort to violence in conflict situations in children. They are intended to desensitize children to violence and to strengthen the conviction that the world in which they live is bad and threatening.

Based on the criticism that, despite the scientific findings, little has been done to remedy the situation, they conducted an experiment with 8- and year-olds at two elementary schools in san jose, california, from 1996 to 1997. In the one school nothing more was done with the children. They served as a control group to see what consequences the "treatment" of 105 children at another school had. They received 18 lessons, ranging from 30 to 50 minutes in length, on the topic of reducing the consumption of television, videos and computer games. The scientists instructed the teachers. Parents were also involved in the experiment. They received regular letters and advice on how to support their children.

The children, who had previously spent an average of 15.5 hours in front of the television, 5 hours watching video films and three hours playing computer games, were encouraged to reduce their media consumption in general. The highlight of the experiment was 10 days of abstinence. Then they should not sit in front of the tv or play computer or video games for more than seven hours a week. "Helped" they were helped by a device that can be connected to a television set and that prevents the tv from being switched on or on when a certain time has passed.

How the reduced media consumption has affected the parents, who consequently could also watch less, is unfortunately not mentioned in the report. Nor how this has affected family life. At least the children’s consumption could be reduced by about one third (to 9 hours of television, 3.5 hours of video films, 1.5 hours of computer games). It was not recorded what content the films or games had. At the beginning and at the end of the study, children in both schools had to estimate the aggressiveness of their classmates. When first interviewed, the results of the were about the same; at the end of the experiment, the children who had undergone media deprivation reported 25 percent fewer instances of aggression than those in the control group. In addition, the scientists regularly observed how often 50 children at each school engaged in verbal or physical aggression during breaks and playtimes at school. Here, too, the number of incidents decreased in comparison with the control group.

The authors of the study conclude that a program to reduce media consumption among school children was able to reduce aggressive behavior: "these results show the causal effects of these media on aggression and the possible benefits of reducing children’s media consumption." the effect of media withdrawal was more noticeable in children who had previously been more aggressive than in others. Studies on a broader scale are required in order to obtain the results.

However, the unusual attention children received from teachers, researchers and parents certainly plays a rough role in how they behave. Media consumption often happens when parents or other children are not around or do not have time. If, on the other hand, children spend more time with parents and other children, this by no means means means that they will become more peaceful as a result, after all, violence can also be learned here or be forced into violence. And the big question is, of course, how long the children will keep up the reduced media consumption when the daily routine starts again and the attention falls away …

Ultimately, the results of the study do not support the thesis that it is precisely the portrayal of violence in the media that promotes or strengthens aggressive behavior in children. Exposure to media in general, if there is a causal link between media and aggression, seems to demand the potential for aggression. Of course, it would have been interesting to find out whether the children continued to watch violent films, but also whether there is a difference between films and games with regard to the demand for or reduction of aggression.

The u.S. Government recently launched a website to inform parents and the youth themselves about violence among children and teens. A goal is it to be able to konnen thereby a violence prevention. "Stop it before it starts" is the well-meaning motto.

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