Violent Media Creates Couch Potatoes, Not Violent Youth

Studies on violent media and aggressiveness are misleading and ignore reality.

Posted Oct 19, 2015

 Flicker, "Potato Head" by Ian Burt,CC By 2.0
Source: Source: Flicker, "Potato Head" by Ian Burt,CC By 2.0

There seems to be an epidemic of what I refer to as "parent-noia" going around the US today. Parents everywhere seem to live in absolute terror that they might not be doing right by their kids. The minute kids start having even the most inconsequential emotional problem or start acting out, the parents immediately ask themselves, "What did I do wrong?"

Parenting columnist John Rosemond describes what he called, "America's Hidden Domestic Abuse Problem." He spoke of an "epidemic of children of all ages who assault or threaten to assault their parents when they don't get their way. Unheard of 50-plus years ago, this sort of outrage is not at all uncommon today." 

Parents who have this happen to them, as Rosemond points out, are often heard to desperately inquire, "What am I doing to make him so angry with me?"  The correct answer to this question?  You are letting your children get away with this free of any serious consequences, and your own behavior does not command respect. That's what.

Often the parental self-flagellation is short lived and followed quickly by a search for something or someone else to blame. This makes such parents particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous doctors and drug companies who will provide them with such a scapegoat. "The child has a diseased brain," the doctors insist. "Childhood bipolar disorder. ADHD. Maybe both. We'll help you solve the problem by drugging your child with both an upper and a downer."

Other parents who do not like this medicalized answer look for something else to blame. For quite a long time in the eighties, juvenile delinquents or suicide-attempting youths were hospitalized in for-profit psychiatric hospitals for months until their insurance ran out. The problematic behavior was often blamed by the psychiatrists at these facilities on popular culture, particularly heavy metal music.

This nonsense came to a head in July of 1990 when the rock group Judas Priest went on trial, accused by two sets of parents of having driven their kids to suicide through subliminal messages in their music. Thankfully, they were acquitted on all charges.

 Flicker, "Metallica," by Saad Faruque, CC By 2.0
Source: Metallica by Source: Flicker, "Metallica," by Saad Faruque, CC By 2.0

Let's see. I just listened to the album St. Anger by Metallica. I just now developed an irresistible urge to go out and murder someone. But wait! I also just listened to the song, I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself by Elton John. I now have an irresistible urge to kill myself instead. Which should I do?? Such a horrible dilemma! (I do hope that no readers think I'm being serious).

A frequent and more recent scapegoat is violent video games. Studies were done that showed that youths exposed to these games experienced an increase in aggressive thoughts immediately after playing said games. Proof positive, it was said, that the games were contributing to youth violence. Of course, the increase in aggressive thoughts was extremely temporary and not accompanied by any specific acts, but those salient facts were always left out of public discussions. And usually not mentioned as weaknesses in the studies either.

My theory is that kids who spend hours playing video games do not have a whole lot of time left in their day to be out raising mayhem or consorting with gang members. In fact, they seem to be couch potatoes to me. A great many seem to be locked up in their parents' basements all day playing the games.

Thankfully, there was at least one study whose results show that violent video games do not predict serious acts of aggression in youths, at least among a sample that was mostly Hispanic. (Ferguson CJ. Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents. J Youth Adolesc. 2010 Dec 14). In fact, nor did exposure to television violence.

What was correlated with acts of aggression in this study? Current levels of depressive symptoms were strong predictors of serious aggression and violence across most outcome measures.

Draw your own conclusions and share them with me with your comments.