Protecting children from violence in the media 'more difficult' than ever, experts say

By Amanda Hoh

Parents are being advised to manage how much their children are exposed to the news by experts who acknowledge it is more difficult than ever to protect them from exposure to violence.

Educators and medical professionals came together on Monday in Sydney for a conference to discuss how the media shaped public perceptions of violence and how the reporting of violence impacted individuals.

Dr Wayne Warburton, who presented at the conference and is a developmental psychologist and deputy director of the Families Research Centre at Macquarie University, advised parents to filter the media platforms their children were exposed to.

“I’d be really reluctant to let kids see what’s happening on the news,” Dr Warburton said.

“What happened in Nice — there were live feeds going on at the time.

“I think it’s really hard to justify having kids see that sort of stuff live on television; how do you explain that stuff to a child? It’s really terrifying.”

How do you explain what's going on?

Dr Warburton said the media was one of the biggest influences on children's lives, with data showing Australian kids spend an average of five hours and 10 minutes a day with entertainment media or online.

"Exposure to violent media, over a period of time ... you start to see the world as being more violent than it actually is, that people are more hostile than they really are," he said.


"Adult news tends to sensationalise and not put a context around things.

"But for young kids, you hear all the scary stuff but you don't hear the context and know that 'where I live that's not realistic'."

A mother's story

702 ABC Sydney listener Ann experienced this with her son when he was five years old.

She said when the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York, her son saw the news reporting of it for a few minutes in the morning before going to school.

Later that day, she said there was a storm which caused him to associate the terrorist event with the weather event.

"I turned [the TV] off because I tried to protect him from it all, but just that glimpse affected him," Ann said.

"For about two years as soon as there was a storm, he would ring me from school and he'd get that worked up about it.

"If we were out he would say, 'Mummy we have to go home'."

Professor Elizabeth Handsley, president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, said it was now even more difficult for parents to protect their children from the reporting of violence.


"Having media contact on so many media devices and platforms makes it more difficult for parents to manage this kind of stuff," Professor Handsley said.

She also said children were "more likely" to be influenced by "glamorised superhero violence" in films and games which can subtly affect their thoughts and behaviours.

How to filter violence for kids

Dr Warburton suggested the media needed to put violent events into context for children by producing shows like the ABC's News On 3.

He said children needed to understand that "people have [violence] under control and that it's not likely to happen in Australia".

Research has shown that talking to children aged under eight about media violence "was not helpful" as they did not have the capacity for abstract thinking, Dr Warburton explained.

"The sorts of things that help is literally taking them away from it and cuddling them and reassuring them and give them their favourite toy," he said.

"For kids that are older, you can sit down and talk to them and put it into context.

"But even older kids like to be held and reassured."

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This post originally appeared on ABC News.