Benoit's Young Fans May Be Affected

As a pro wrestler, Chris Benoit achieved hero status among young audiences with such moves as the "Crippler Crossface" and the "Sharpshooter."

But child psychology experts worry that the real-life violence that marked the end of his life -- in which he apparently slayed his family and killed himself in his Fayetteville, Ga., home -- may have a profound effect on his youngest fans.

"I think that this is going to be very disturbing for kids," says Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and a professor at Emory University's School of Medicine.

As with the loss of any hero, young fans may react with depression and disappointment.

"They've lost a hero in multiple ways," Kaslow says. "In one sense, you have the death of someone who was admired; that's a loss. But then you also have the loss of respect -- we hope -- for someone, because murder-suicide is such a severe form of domestic abuse."

Judith Myers-Walls, associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University, says that the situation may offer parents an opportunity to scrutinize their children's heroes, particularly if they followed Benoit's career.

"Overall, it is important for parents to help kids take a look at their media heroes, whether they be rock stars or athletes or other public figures, and figure out what is admirable about that person and what is not so admirable," she said. "So some of it is dealing with hero worship in general."

But Kaslow worries that the tragedy, if it's not placed in proper context, also has the potential to lead to further violence.

"There is going to be grieving, a loss of respect and confusion," she says. "But some will think, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'"

An Extension of Televised Violence?

While media sensationalism around highly public murder-suicides may be nothing new, Kaslow says some children may have difficulty separating Benoit's violent end from his wrestling-ring alter ego.

"This is a huge extension of that televised violence," she says. "In wrestling, you have aggression, but it is limited. Suddenly, we see that it has gone way over the edge."

The idea that Benoit's violent persona may have transcended the barrier between fantasy and reality could make it even harder for young fans of pro wrestling to draw the line between fact and fiction.

This becomes even more relevant considering their exposure to the violent TV programming of which Benoit was the star -- something that may have caused some of them to become accustomed to viewing violence in a different light.

"These kids may be desensitized and may not realize the real dangers here," Myers-Walls says.

"A lot of pro wrestling is fantasy; they're doing it for show," she says. "It is important for kids to realize that sometimes the effects of this violence is real, and they shouldn't try to copy the things they see."

Children See, Children Do

But that type of imitative behavior is exactly what some child psychology experts fear.

The idea that children tend to imitate what they watch on television is nothing new. In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics formed a Committee on Public Education to study the effects of media violence.

What the committee found through an extensive review of research was that violent acts and images in the media could contribute to imitation of aggressive behavior among kids and adolescents.

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