Marin Voice: We need to help our kids cope with media violence
Across the country, our adolescents are in a state of crisis. In Marin County alone we’ve had at least two recent suicides, and look at the recent events in Parkland, Florida: yet another school shooting by a teen who killed teens.
One of my teenaged clients recently asked me why all of these things are happening. My simple answer: kids are in pain.
Digging a little deeper, we live in a society dominated by violent images, readily served up by movies, television, video games and the web.
Last month, I conducted a study which surveyed 82 participants between the ages of 12 and 20, 39 of whom were male and 43 female.
When asked for how long they were exposed to media violence each day, a staggering 76 percent said more than three hours.
Kids are exposed to much more violence through the media then any previous American generation has been.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in 1950 only 10 percent of American homes had a television. Today, that number is an astonishing 99 percent. Nearly two-thirds of all TV programs contain violent scenes, including children’s programs. And it is well documented that children imitate behavior seen on television, including violence.
Ninety-five percent of American adolescents aged 13-17 have smartphones, and 92 percent play video games. Both are commonly used without parental supervision.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has performed numerous studies documenting the link between viewing violence and aggressive behavior.
One study that evaluated 430 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders found that children’s exposure to media violence predicted increased aggressive behavior.
The endless barrage of violent imagery in the media is a major problem.
And the fact that it is often depicted as realistic is of particular concern, as children learn through imitation, and many end up emulating these harmful behaviors. Violence in popular narratives is often carried out with little consequence, and is sometimes even celebrated as heroism.
In a society as turbulent as ours, these characterizations are nothing less than irresponsible.
In my survey, participants were also asked if they ever thought about performing violent acts after viewing them on media. The question included two parts: Have you thought about harming yourself or others after seeing either/both on TV, online, and/or video games?
Fifty-four percent answered yes to having thoughts of harming themselves; 32 percent had thoughts of harming others. These numbers are telling.
Parents: You can help. If you have any concerns at all: Get your kids into therapy. There doesn’t need to be a critical problem to justify a little therapeutic care.
All Marin County middle and high schools have no-cost therapists on campus, and that is what they are there for.
You can also easily contact a private practice therapist who has experience working with teens.
It’s a simple matter for the therapist to meet your child, assess her or him, and make recommendations about further needs.
If your child doesn’t need ongoing therapy, you can ask the therapist to arrange for check-in sessions with your child, at whatever frequency you determine is best. This way your child will have an established relationship with a professional if they need help.
And just as important, a professional’s eyes will be on them. Mental health professionals are trained to detect suicidal thoughts, thoughts about hurting others, and other signs of mental illness.
As mental health professionals, we used to counsel parents to wait until identified signs were present before recommending therapy; this is no longer the global recommendation. We want parents to proactively seek mental health support for their kids. It is not a sign of weakness to have your teen seek help; it is a sign of strength to take action.
And remember, asking for help does not mean there is something wrong with you or your child. We are living in troubling times, and our kids naturally need more support now.
And parents should never feel as if they are the only ones on guard in our community when it comes to their children’s health, wellness and safety.