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Virtual Violence: What is your child watching?

AAP recommends pediatricians discuss virtual violence with parents

This is a conversation I had recently:

“What have you been up to this summer? Did you play outside at all or has it been all video games?”

“Pretty much video games.”

“Oh cool, what kind of games do you like? Sports?”

“No, stuff like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.”

It would be one thing if I was having this conversation with a teenager (still not ideal) but this CHILD was 7 years old.

Twenty years ago, considering TV alone, a study estimated that children see 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence before middle school. With the TV, movies, social media and video games available today, there is no telling what that number would equal.

Studies are clear that exposure to virtual violence increases aggressive behavior and thoughts. Yet, the means by which children can be exposed to virtual violence seem to increase exponentially every year. A recent statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics encouraged pediatricians to talk with families about virtual violence and to provide guidance for how to address virtual violence in well-child visits. I read through it and, frankly, was tempted to throw it out with some of the other policy statements, etc. that I don’t think apply to me. Here are four reasons why I NEARLY ignored the new virtual violence policy statement:

1. I have too much to do in a checkup as it is. It’s true that there are a lot of things to cover in a checkup and it’s possible that I won’t get to the topic of virtual violence every time, but when I can I should.

2. Kids are dealing with real-life violence. I work in a clinic where tragically, for some kids, being exposed to virtual violence might be a good day for them. Again, we need to provide the best possible pediatric care for the patient in front of us. If a child needs to be physically safe that should take priority but if, for another, virtual violence is their biggest risk, we should address that as well.

3. Kids have started with violent media before I even get a chance. See conversation above. This may be a real concern, but it means that I should start the conversation earlier, not ignore it all together.

4. Parents who let their kids be exposed probably don’t care about what I have to say about it. It’s possible that one parent is concerned and the other not. Perhaps my information and support might be enough to cut down on or eliminate virtual violence exposure.

I’ve always had casual conversation about media with my patients. Despite my reluctance to focus on this, I think it’s an important piece of information for parents to consider for their children. Here are some tips that you can use to help decrease you child’s exposure to virtual violence:

1. Start early engagement with your child about screen time and habits. If you let your child watch unlimited screen time as a one year old, imposing strict restrictions on anything related to screens later only gets harder.

2. Co-watch almost everything with your child. I get it. I’m a parent and I’m tired of watching kid shows. I’d rather be on Twitter. But if there’s anything new or potentially risky, I watch it or play it with my kids.

3. Don't let your child play first person shooter games or any game where the goal is violence or killing. They don't have the ability to separate real vs. virtual violence and their growing and developing brains cannot handle that level of exposure.

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