A study of New Zealand children’s exposure to violence shows
that the most common experience is watching people fighting and killing on
television and other screens. And lead researcher, Dr Janis Carroll-Lind, draws
the obvious conclusion: the quickest way to reduce violence in children’s lives
is to turn off the television.

Ninety per cent of the 2077 schoolchildren aged 9 to 13 in the
study
said they had seen violence in movies and shows:

“I have seen someone get killed by a gun on TV”,
“Watching people on TV who are dying in hospital [from violence]”,
“Seeing people on TV drinking and being stupid and crashing”. Movies
specifically depicting family violence were frequently mentioned: “Well I
watched ‘Once Were Warriors’ when Jake Heke had beaten Beth up and gave her a
black eye and bruised her face.” The children’s developmental age was
sometimes reflected in their descriptions of the movies: “When the Germans
killed Jews in the war on TV. When you say candyman four times, he comes and
kills you with a hook.”

Around two-thirds of the children said they had directly experienced
physical violence; two thirds also said they had witnessed physical violence
directed at other children; and 27 per cent reported witnessing violence
against adults — mostly as a result of family breakdown, to judge by the
examples the children gave:

“My Mum and her boyfriend always get in arguments and I’ve seen heaps
of things get smashed”, and “I watched my Aunty and my Dad fighting
with knives inside at night”. The majority of witnessed violence occurred
in the children’s homes, but some children did describe witnessing family
violence elsewhere. For example, “My Dad hurt Mum in town and made her
mouth bleed”. The following quote reflects how children describe such
events from a child’s perspective:

“In the Christmas holidays my family went away with our friends, but
Dad wasn’t allowed to come because Mum had a something order out on him. But on
the third day we were there Dad came because he needed to talk to Mum, and Dad
and my Dad’s friends got in a big fight with me, all my sisters and the rest of
the camp watching.”

Significantly, “Simply seeing physical violence against others, in the media
and in real life, affected children more than suffering themselves – partly
because four-fifths of the violence they suffered was inflicted by other
children,” the New Zealand Herald reports.

“Witnessing physical violence against adults and in the media had more
impact on children than witnessing physical violence against other
children,” the study found.

Says Dr Carroll-Lind,

“Where you have a child exposed to violence themselves, and maybe had
an abusive childhood, watching violence on television is yet another trigger.
That is the one thing that we could change quickly. Parents can make a choice
as to what their children are watching or what video games they are
playing.”

The study found that “emotional violence” was even more prevalent, and 11
per cent of children had suffered sexual violence — comparable with 12 per
cent in a US survey.

The children later answered another questionnaire on their
experience as perpetrators of violence.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet