Sony Computer Entertainment America/AP
A PlayStation 3 nonviolent video game, Journey, won a Grammy nomination for its score. The game guides remote players through a trek that provides them emotional connections.

Instead of blaming media violence for kids who kill, demand more nonviolent video games

A new study shows how children display more empathy if given pro-social media to watch or play. Parents can be encouraged to demand video games and other media that teach social skills.

To cool off a hot argument, sometimes it needs to be turned upside down. That may well happen in the national dispute over media violence if enough Americans heed a new study that reverses the terms of that debate.

The study, by researchers in Seattle and published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, found that young children who are encouraged to watch TV programs that depict kindness, respect, and cooperation are more likely to express those traits than kids who watch everyday TV fare that includes fictional violence.

Two other surprising results of the study are worth noting: Low-income boys, who tend to watch the most television, benefited the most in displaying empathy after watching nonviolent shows. And many of the parents who were guided on what kind of pro-social content to watch and how to avoid violent shows asked that such advice continue even after the study.

Since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, President Obama has sought to boost research on possible links between gun violence and media such as video games. Dozens of violent video games were found in the home of Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people in the Newtown, Conn. mass shooting. And the National Rifle Association, perhaps to deflect attention away from concern over gun regulations, placed part of the blame for gun violence on video game companies.

Yet restricting such video games was always going to be difficult. In 2011, the Supreme Court overturned a California law that aimed to do just that. The justices, citing a lack of evidence that playing video games leads to violent behavior, were reluctant to curb a First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

What’s more, media researchers differ over how to define aggression or fictional violence. Even if a standard can be found, a 2007 study by the Federal Communications Commission found more depiction of violence in the Disney animated cartoon “The Little Mermaid” than in a documentary about the Civil War.

The best way to curb violent media is to overwhelm it with shows and games that are equally entertaining and help children imitate healthy social behaviors. Parents need more encouragement to find such media and to guide their children in using them.

Since the 1970s, TV broadcasters have greatly increased the number of high-quality, pro-social shows for children. But the same level of "Sesame Street"-like quality is not yet true for the video game industry. If Americans create a demand for it, the $60 billion global industry may measure up.

The Seattle study, which tracked 617 families with kids between the ages of 3 and 5, didn’t try to reduce the TV viewing time in the homes. Indeed, the average preschooler in America watches an estimated 4.1 hours of television and other media each day, according to a 2011 study. Rather, the researchers encouraged half of the parents to help their kids watch shows like “Dora the Explorer” while the other half were used as a control group. The children clearly mimicked what they saw.

The nation’s gun debate should be an opportunity for parents, community groups, and perhaps government to advocate for better nonviolent and uplifting entertainment in all the media now available to children. Advocacy groups such as Common Sense Media already provide such guidance to parents.

The number of media outlets available to children will only keep rising; it is likely the average number of hours of children using them will keep rising as well. The quality must increase with it. Gun violence may be reduced if media for children teach them the opposite of violent behavior.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Instead of blaming media violence for kids who kill, demand more nonviolent video games
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today