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Violent TV Sneaks Past Parental Control

Most limit kids' viewing, but images make it through anyway

TUESDAY, July 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Even though most parents say they limit what their children see on TV, many admit that televised violence manages to sneak through their screens weekly.

More than half the parents and guardians surveyed in a study appearing in the July issue of Pediatrics said they attempted to restrict television viewing, yet almost three-quarters of them said their efforts were not always successful.

Exposure to violence on TV and via computer games or videos and video games is widely believed to contribute to aggressive and antisocial behavior in kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that it "recognizes exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, as a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed."

Researchers at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., felt that understanding how parents viewed violence on television and how attitudes and practices differed in different demographic groups might help in the effort to develop better interventions for violence prevention.

From January 1999 to July 2000, 677 parents and guardians of children up to 21 years old were asked to answer questions on child-rearing attitudes and practices, lifestyle and demographics, and television viewing, as well as exposure to video games and video watching. More than half of the participants were black and most were mothers.

Families made up of younger children and mothers were most likely to limit exposure to such violence as physical fighting, shootings and stabbings on television.

Almost half (45 percent) the parents whose children watched television said they usually or always watched with the child. As the child got older, however, the amount of parental monitoring decreased while the amount of violence viewed increased.

Parents and guardians also reported that their children watched television for an average of 2.6 hours per day.

Although the researchers did not specifically ask why so much violence slipped through the cracks, reasons might include viewing outside the home (such as a friend's house or day care), televisions in children's bedrooms, and competing demands for the parents' attention.

Another way violent scenes can slip under the radar is through commercials or clips for upcoming movies and shows, said Dr. Adam Aponte, a father, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Diagnostic and Treatment Center at North General Hospital in New York City.

"That's almost impossible for a parent to monitor," he said. "The nice thing about parents watching [with their kids] is that they can share that these are movies, these are not real, these are not things they should be doing."

It's also important to discuss your own television-viewing philosophy with the parents of your children's friends, with babysitters and nannies, and even with the school, Aponte said.

"Parents should also be aware that there are ways to turn off some of the more gory features on video games," Aponte added.

American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines suggest that parents limit all media use (TV, computer games etc.) to no more than one or two hours per day, watch TV with their children, remove TV sets from children's bedrooms, and monitor their own habits so as to set a good example.

The study authors also suggest that interventions should address fathers as well as mothers, and that child health professionals should have a role in discussing the issue with parents.

Until those interventions are introduced and succeed, Aponte said, "the point to reinforce over and over is parental involvement -- whether the child is at home playing the computer, playing video games, or going over to someone else's home. When there is violence, discuss the reality of the violence. It's important to stop and say, 'This is a show that is not appropriate for you.'"

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on violence prevention.

SOURCES: Adam Aponte, M.D., medical director, Diagnostic and Treatment Center, North General Hospital, New York; policy statement on media violence, American Association of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education; July 2004 Pediatrics
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