There is a growing body of evidence that today’s constant flow of media messages can produce fear and anxiety in children. Frightening and sensational images on TV, film, social media, and video games can alter a child’s view of the world, affect their sense of well-being, and influence their decision-making. Subsequently, it is important to understand the relationship between children’s media use and the fear and anxiety it can cause them, both in the long and short term.
How can media use lead to fear and anxiety in children?
Research shows that exposure to news programming and/or fictional media such as video games, movies, and TV shows can cause children to experience fear and anxiety. Some exposure may only cause a child to feel scared or upset temporarily, however, other instances may cause a child to experience long-lasting fear or anxiety that may continue into adulthood. The link between fear, anxiety and media is largely due to the following:
- Media violence as well as fantasy imagery and themes (such as magic, villains and heroes) in movies and TV shows can frighten and confuse children and, in some cases, introduce fears that can last into adulthood.
- News stories can be frightening. Research shows that children with limited access to media are just as likely to experience fear and anxiety when exposed to disturbing news stories as children with heavy access. In addition, because older children are able to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, their fears can increase with age.
- Research shows that video game violence can significantly increase anxiety and aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in children over the long-term and short-term.
- Before children reach puberty they will have been exposed to thousands of unsolicited media messages with sexual content that can be confusing and may cause them to feel anxious and upset.
What YOU Can Do
Although the relationship between media and children’s fears and anxieties is complex, these feelings can be reduced when parents set limits and introduce rules for media use. Parents should also talk with their children and encourage them to be open about any media that they find confusing or disturbing. Here are several suggestions to help you guide your child’s media use: