When I started pondering the effects of violence in media for this article, the headlines were filled with the story of two 12-year-old girls who stabbed their friend nineteen times. They had planned together to kill their friend after reading horror stories on the internet. This event ignited discussion about the impact of violent media on children. The debate got pretty heated with people tossing about statistics on either side.

It’s very easy to blame TV, music, video games, movies, or the internet when it comes to tragic situations like this. Plenty of studies do seem to support the idea that violence in media results in violent and aggressive behavior in children. While it’s true that what we watch, listen to, and read has an effect on us, it’s only once piece of the puzzle. After all, Cain killed his brother, Abel, long before Grand Theft Auto became a best-selling video game.

All of us are selfish, sinful human beings with the capacity to do terrible things. Simply avoiding violent media is not going to change that. The real issue, is a heart issue. Of course, that does not mean that we should just let our children watch whatever they like on TV!

When our children are young, it’s pretty easy to control the kinds of media they consume. I doubt that Veggie Tales and Sesame Street are likely to spark any particularly violent behavior in children! It does get a lot harder as our kids grow up though. By the time they hit middle school, they are spending more time with friends and they aren’t always visiting homes with the same media guidelines as their own home. What’s a parent to do?

Now is the time to help your child learn to make wise choices about the media they choose to spend their time on. Here are a few things to ponder when deciding what media we will take part in, no matter what age we are!

Context is everything.

Every good story has some kind of conflict that must be overcome. Sometimes that means that violence is a part of the story. History, the Bible included, is rife with examples of violent behavior. We don’t simply skip over large sections of history simply because of that. In the same way, we do not necessarily discard an entire book or movie because it contains violence. Naturally, a brave knight will have to fight a battle or two, but a true hero never goes looking for an excuse to start one.

What’s important is the context it’s put in. The question I ask myself is, “Does this glorify or excuse what is evil?”

Sometimes people do terrible things. The best media shows us the consequences of such actions, and leaves us with no doubt that those actions were wrong. Questionable media will tell us that “the ends justifies the means” in order to excuse violence. Even worse, is the kind of media that glorifies violent, sinful behavior and portrays it as acceptable and fun.

Is this having a negative effect on me?

All media has an effect on us, good or bad. It’s important for young people (and adults) to be mindful of that. Take note of your attitudes and actions after watching a movie, playing a video game, listening to music, or reading a book. Are you more irritable and less patient? Are you more aggressive when angered by someone? Are you beginning to excuse the kinds of behavior that you know are wrong?

Even as an adult, I’ve had to conclude that certain media was not having a positive effect on me and walk away. It’s important for kids, and especially teens to realize that when you become an adult, it doesn’t magically mean that you can take part in any media you like indiscriminately!

Certainly, children and adolescents don’t always see the negative effects of certain types of media, and that’s when parents have to step in and set boundaries for them. When that’s necessary, be sure to talk to them about why you’ve set particular guidelines. That can help them understand the process of making better media choices for themselves.

I think the best thing that we can do as parents is to talk to our kids. Discuss the latest movie they watched or book they read with them. Sit down with them when they play a video game and ask them to show you how to play. Listen to their favorite music with them. The fact that my mom had conversations like that with me when I was a teen, made me much more inclined to pay attention when she expressed her concerns about a particular movie or music!
Setting guideline for our kids is important, but even more important, is teaching them how to wisely set their own.