Media Health Matters


How Does Screentime Violence Impact Real-Time Bullying?


From mean girls on TV to violent video games, what is the relationship between what children see in media and how they treat each other? CMCH Staff Scientist David Bickham, PhD, explains that “There is an important parallel between the behaviors and beliefs that drive bullying and the documented impacts of media violence.”


Media violence has been shown to:  

When bullying occurs, there is:

  • a bully…who accepts aggression 
  • a victim…who is often fearful and anxious 
  • a bystander…who is desensitized to real world violence–who may have grown up being a non-responsive witness to it & may see it as entertaining  

There is still work to be done to understand the relationship between media violence and bullying, but the parallels between them are clear. 


But there’s good news, too: Research shows that using prosocial media contributes to children’s prosocial behavior. Check out the tips, answers, studies, and NUMBERS we’ve gathered for families seeking to choose media that promote acceptance, empathy, and alliance, rather than numbness, fear, and aggressionPlease share your thoughts on our Facebook page! 


The Tips 


Suggestions for parents seeking teach fundamental social and problem-solving skills. When parents share their views and lessons, they may buffer the influence of entertainment media messages.


Y O U N G E R   K I D S:      

  • Choose media that teach positive behavior, helpfulness and toleranceRepetitive exposure to prosocial television can affect your young child’s social behavior. Preschoolers who watched Mister Rogers increased their amount of praise and physical affection to others in their classroom. The effect of prosocial content is equally successful for boys and girls and increases with the guidance of a parent or teacher. So choose programs wisely, and encourage your child to imitate positive behavior after watching–practice can help the lesson stick!
  • Give children a safe place to make mistakes. Young children try out behaviors learned from watching adults, peers, and the media, and they learn by trial and error. Therefore, when name-calling or physical aggression occurs, intervene right away–but don’t rush to solve the problem for them, and don’t end the play date by “crying bully” too soon. Instead, say something like, “I won’t let you push each other. Can you think of a better way to decide who goes first?” It takes many years of playtime and practice for children to become good problem-solvers. Praise a child who is learning to calm down, name feelings, read facial expressions, describe a problem, think of solutions, and behave fairly while learning to manage angry feelings. 


O L D E R   K I D S:

  • Explain that everybody hurts…sometimes. When your child’s media choices unexpectedly include verbally aggressive behavior, take the opportunity to discuss real-life emotions and reactions. Ask, “How would you feel in that situation?” Or, “Have someone’s words ever left you feeling hurt, anxious, jealous, or angry?” Learning to recognize emotions at increasing levels of detail may help your child respond appropriately to them. For example, feeling hurt can become more painful if a child starts to believe “that insult is true” or “something is wrong with me.” Remind your child that everyone’s feelings hurt sometimes–that that’s natural–but that hurt doesn’t have to evolve into fear or anger. Encourage him to stop, think, be proud of who he is, and focus on responding with assertive, not aggressive, behavior.   
  • Teach teens to respectfully disagree. Media violence can teach teens that problems are solved through name-calling, intimidation, electronic aggression, and physical fighting. They need regular guidance and opportunities to build their conflict resolution skills. Remind your teen to calmly recognize her own feelings, read the other person’s facial expressions and body language, listen and consider the other person’s point of view, explain her own point of view clearly, respect differences, brainstorm solutions, and be willing to apologize and forgive. Your thoughtful conversations and clear expectations may help your teen make healthier decisions on the fly.

> More Tips on Dealing with Bullying and Cyber-bullying  


> More Tips on Dealing with Media Violence 


The Q&A


Pediatrician, professor, parent, and former filmmaker Dr. Michael Rich answers parents’ questions about media and health. Encouraging families to enjoy their media and use them wisely, Dr. Rich shares science-based answers and practical solutions. 

What’s your question? Ask the Mediatrician┬«.           


The Research


12,000 the number of violent acts the average child sees on television annually > Statement

32% of high school students reported being in a physical fight during previous year > Fact Sheet

20% of students reported being bullied at school during previous year > Fact Sheet

9-35% of young people report being victims of electronic aggression > Brief 

40% decline in empathy among college students today, compared to 30-40 years ago > Study

95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior online say they have seen others ignoring the mean behavior > Study  


Search the CMCH Database of Research (DoR) to see more studies about children, media and health. This sample search on media violence produced 6 studies on the subject.

  • Television, Aggression and Enjoyment – NEW study shows that the relationship between TV violence and physical aggression is mediated by enjoyment of TV violence, perceived reality in TV violence, and identification with violent TV heroes. See this study
  • Intervention to reduce the use of media violence and aggression – NEW study results show that a 5-week school-based intervention can produce changes in the use of media violence, aggressive norms, and behavior sustained over several months. See this study