Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(5):863
Children's exposure to violence through various media is well documented, and it is estimated that U.S. children will have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence on television by the age of 18. In addition to television, movies and video games are sources of children's increased exposure to violence. Research has shown that such exposure to violence can increase a child's use of violence to resolve conflict, desensitize children to violence and the victimization of others, and create the belief that the world is a mean and scary place. Despite knowing the impact violence can have on children, few studies have looked at potential interventions to the problem. Robinson and associates studied how reducing children's exposure to violence through the media would affect their aggressive behavior and whether reduced exposure would improve children's perception of the world.
The study was a randomized, controlled, school-based trial of third- and fourth-grade students and their parents or guardians. The setting was two sociodemographically and scholastically matched public elementary schools. The intervention consisted of children in one school receiving an 18-lesson classroom curriculum lasting six months that was designed to reduce television, videotape and video game use. The curriculum included classroom lectures that challenged the children not to watch any of these media for 10 days, and developing and implementing a seven-hour-per-week television, videotape and video game viewing budget. Parents were sent newsletters designed to encourage them to help their children stay within the viewing budget and suggesting viewing-reduction strategies for the entire family.
The main outcome measurements were performed in September before the intervention and in the following April. Children in both schools rated their peers' aggressive behavior and reported their own perception of the world. A random sample of the children was obtained, and the sample was observed for aggressive playground behavior. Parents were interviewed by telephone about their children's aggressive behavior.
Compared with the control school, children in the intervention group were rated by their peers as having a significant decrease in observed aggressive physical behavior and verbal aggression. The children in the intervention group also reported being less likely to perceive the world as a mean and scary place. The playground behaviors and parentally reported home behaviors were “better” for children in the intervention group, but the improvement was not statistically significant. These results were consistent between genders, and regardless of age and parent education level.
The authors conclude that reducing television, videotape and video game viewing time decreases aggressive behavior in elementary school children. The findings of this study also support the relationship between media viewing and aggressive behavior in children and the benefits of reducing children's media exposure.
The study by Robinson and colleagues emphasizes the importance of parental guidance of the use of television, videotapes and video games by their children. The intervention performed in this study required parents to establish rules for viewing time. This parental intervention had the same impact across the educational levels of the parents. Physicians should use this information to assist parents in reducing the amount of time their children are exposed to television, videotapes and video games. According to the study, this will reduce children's aggressive behavior.—k.e.m.