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Movies are more violent than they used to be

December 20, 2013

My daughter’s fourth birthday is coming up soon. A few days ago as we were driving home from school, I asked her what type of presents she might like for her birthday. I knew the grandparents and great-grandparents would soon be asking so I’d better get some ideas.


That’s what she said. Guns.

Until that moment, I didn’t even think she knew what guns were. As I sat in stunned silence, she said, “But don’t worry, Mom. I won’t kill anything.”

You won’t kill anything??! Whaatt? Despite her attempt to soothe me, that made me even more alarmed. As far as I know, she has never watched any movie or television shows with guns. We don’t own guns, and we don’t want them. Exposure to guns and violence simply isn’t part of our lives (or so I thought). I can only guess that she’s had some conversations on the playground with kids who have older siblings.

No matter how she came across this knowledge, the fact of the matter is, I can’t escape this reality. Our kids will at some time in their lives be exposed to guns and violence through television, video games and movies. While I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a 4-year-old be permitted to maintain the innocence of her childhood, I knew that this conversation would come sooner or later.

A lot of parents might shrug and say, what’s the big deal? So what if your kid likes to play with pretend guns? But, here’s why it’s a big deal to me.

Research shows that merely the sight of guns increases aggression.

If my child knows what guns are and how they are used, she has obviously seen some type of gun (real or fake, in real life or on television) or seen someone simulate its use. There have been a multitude of studies conducted over the last several decades that have come to the same conclusion: merely the sight of a weapon can increase a person’s aggression. It’s called “the weapons effect.” The weapons effect holds true even without the backdrop of violence. When a person sees a weapon or even hears words associated with weapons, the likelihood of aggression increases.

Research shows violence in television and movies increases aggression

It’s also been well-documented that violence seen on television and other visual media can increase a child’s aggression. The evidence that exposure to violence profoundly affects children is so overwhelming, in fact, that six of the most prominent public health organizations (including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics) agree:

“The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”

Guns and violence in television and movies has increased dramatically

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics determined that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950. The incidence of gun violence in PG-13 films has more than tripled since the rating was first introduced in 1985. Even more surprising is the finding that since 2009, PG-13 movies have contained even more violence than R-rated movies.

What does this mean? It means that our kids’ world is saturated with images of guns and depictions of violence. We aren’t imagining it; things are worse than when we were young. It also means that our tweens and teens are being bombarded with images and storylines that make them think that weapons and violence are viable means of solving their problems.

What should we do?

Most of us would probably agree, there’s little chance of being able to shield our children completely. I can control most of what my 4-year-old experiences, but I can only imagine trying to explain to a teenager why they can’t see a PG-13 movie. It’s the acceptable norm in our society.

However, it does seem prudent to try and limit their exposure and to ensure that their viewing habits are age-appropriate. Check out Common Sense Media for reviews and age recommendations for your child’s entertainment.

Since we can’t totally eliminate the influence of television, video games and movies on our kids, the next best thing is to talk about it. Watch these movies with your kids, and when you see instances of movie characters resorting to violence as the answer to their frustrations, point it out.

Talk about the way fictional characters deal with these things and how that is completely different than the way things should be handled in real life. The more you can show your kids that movies aren’t real life (even though they look like it), the more they can understand that their actions shouldn’t be the same as what they see in the movies.

Don’t let movies and television be the only voices in your children’s heads. Make sure they hear yours, too.