Pediatrics Group Issues Warning About 'Virtual Violence' and Children

American Academy of Pediatrics called for national discussion on violence.

ByABC News
July 18, 2016, 1:18 PM

— -- Rising levels "virtual violence" and its possible impact on children has lead the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to call for action to protect children from exposure to excessive amounts of onscreen violence.

In a new policy statement released by AAP, the group called on doctors and lawmakers to take action to limit children's exposure to "virtual violence," which includes "first-person shooter games and other realistic video games and applications."

The group pointed out that violence is pervasive on prime-time television shows and even in G-rated movies.

The average American watches about five hours of TV a day and a typical hour can consist of an average of six different violent exchanges, according to a 2009 study. Furthermore, about 70 percent of children’s programs contain violence, the study found. And 91 percent of video games that are labeled as appropriate for 10-year-olds are violent, the study found. And despite a “mature” labeling, many children in grades 4-12 play video games that can have significant graphic violence.

The group is calling for a "national discussion" on the topic and asking pediatricians to ask about a child's "media diet," for parents to be mindful of what their child watches and what games they play and for government policy makers to consider legislation that would prohibit easy access for minors to view violent media.

"A sizable majority of media researchers both in pediatrics and psychology believe that existing data show a significant link between virtual violence and aggression," the group wrote in the statement.

Additionally, the AAP made multiples requests that the entertainment industry take steps to not "normalize" violence. Their requests included avoiding glamorizing violence, stop using humans or other living targets in video games, and if violence is used on screen "it should be used thoughtfully as serious drama, always showing the painand loss suffered by the victims and perpetrators."

“The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to be concerned about the impact that virtual violence has on children, and we know that parents are also concerned, because it’s a question that pediatricians often receive during wellness exams,” Dr. Dimitri Christakis, lead author of the policy statement said. “Pediatricians can let parents know that there are ways to mitigate the impact of media violence, by co-viewing games and movies with their kids, making a media plan for their family and protecting children under age 6 from all violent media.”

In an accompanying editorial, pediatric researchers from Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Stanford University, among others, said the rise of smartphones and tablets have given children "unprecedented" access to scenes of violence both real and fictional.

"Now youth can produce, view, and share problematic content, including images of community violence, school violence, sexual violence, and police violence on their smart, portable devices," the researchers said. "Some social media feeds even provide unsolicited and unwelcome exposure to acts of actual terrorism, gender violence, and war."

The study authors said they are concerned that exposure to real-life violence may give children additional feelings of distress, victimization or fear that can be shared among social groups. They advise pediatricians to help families navigate the effects of virtual violence on children by raising awareness among parents.

“With the advent of smart phones and apps like Snapchat and Instagram, children can capture, view and share violent acts in ways that are new to millennials and centennials,” said Dr. Rhea Boyd, a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Communications and Media and lead author of the commentary. "Nearly three out of four teenagers have access to a smart phone, and exposure to real-world violence via these devices, often without parental knowledge or control, can create feelings of distress, victimization and even fear."

Dr. Imran Aslam, a dermatology resident at Howard University and medical resident in the ABC News Medical Unit, contributed to this report.