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Media violence 'unchained': Multiple studies show kids are adversely affected by violence in entertainment, news

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12 2013 4:20 p.m. MST

At the same time, Beresin said that via his experience as a child psychiatrist, he has personally treated dozens of children who suffered acute mental trauma from seeing violent images on television screens.

However, the damage-inducing programming wasn't the kind of "media violence" that scientists typically study.

"Kids can remotely develop post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing traumatic events on television through the news," he said. "I can tell you anecdotally that after 9/11, many children did not want to watch the local news.

"This is not confirmed scientific research, but I can tell you from a clinical standpoint having talked with many, many children and families, the local news is much scarier for children than many fictional movies. … For example, a 5-year-old that watches the twin towers fall over and over and over again for a week has no concept that it's not really continuing to happen over and over and over again."

When violence works

Could movies like "Passion of the Christ" and "Schindler's List" have successfully depicted emotionally charged historical events without including realistic depictions of violence?

For his part, Hollywood.com's Brian Salisbury believes there is an appropriate time and place for violence in movies.

"Violence can do a really good job of conveying what's at stake," Salisbury said. "If you don't have adequately established stakes, then your tension is gone."

Salisbury prefers to distinguish graphic violence ("someone gets shot and you see 10 buckets of blood come out") from gratuitous violence ("dealing with elevated quantity or wantonness, like seeing a lot of people getting shot in a small amount of time"). And on the occasions when a movie's violence reaches excessive levels, he lays the brunt of the blame with the Motion Picture Association of America, which doles out movie ratings.

"I feel like whether or not the violence is justified within a story (depends on) whether the thematic elements of that story (require) the use of violence," Salisbury said. "There are some movies that have recognized where the MPAA is getting lax, and are using that to their advantage to make something that is purely exploitative that plays to the baser crowd, the baser things that we want to see in movies. And that's unfortunate."

An adaptable approach

To protect children from media violence, Beresin encourages parents to adopt a customized approach based on factors such as a child's age and maturity.

"First of all, parents need to have different stances with different children at different ages. For example, parents need to know what young school-aged children — say, ages 5 to 13 — what they're actually doing. Parents need to actually monitor them. I don't think that an older adolescent needs to be or should be policed as much.

"... You have to get to know your child, and then do the best you can. There's no absolute formula for this, except trying to know your child, talk with your child and then tailor your limits, your prohibitions, your rules to the age — not just the chronological age, but the emotional and developmental age of your child."

Beresin also believes children will consume media more responsibly if they can be made to understand that wise media consumption will catalyze greater freedoms, and vice versa.

"If parents actually know that their kids are more responsible, they should give them more freedom," he said. "And if the kids are not so responsible, the parents should be much more reluctant to give them free rein for many things — including the use of media."

Solutions start at home

Osborn no longer works in media public policy, but she remains active in the teeming Southern California media landscape hosting the radio show "Deadline L.A.," which critiques the news media, and teaching the class "Research, Practice & Social Change" to USC doctoral students.

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