What are the effects of seeing violent images in children?
The psychotherapist’s opinion.
Not infrequently in my professional experience, I meet parents who tell me nightmares, seemingly unmotivated fears, difficulty sleeping, enuresis, abnormal behavior in their children.
In the exploration of the problem, the focus is on the child’s relationship to technological tools such as smartphone, tv, tablet; there is often a connection between the child’s discomfort and the recurring exposure to bloody images projected on the screens.
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Children and technology: a complicated relationship
One of the phenomena we are confronted with and questioned about on a daily basis is our young children’s relationship to technological tools.
In these lines, we will focus in particular on the effects that exposure to violent images can cause in the child.
We will provide some reflective input and tips to prevent psychological and emotional distress.
Technological tools must not be demonized, nor is it possible to imagine raising a child, completely depriving them of their use, alienating it from a society that is increasingly using the technological vehicle as a source of communication.
These are tools that can have benefits, but also risks that are important to dwell on.
A child does not have the same ability to understand events as an adult and easily confuses and overlaps the boundary between reality and fantasy.
In the same way, a child is still unable to carry out the mentalization process, to make sense of his emotions, of his psychophysical state. For this reason, it can be very frustrating to ask the child for an explanation for his or her emotional disturbance.
In addition, for children there is a “learning by imitation“,” the acquisition of models “to pursue and propose again.
Repeated exposure to violent images in solitude may cause the child discomfort and psychophysical reactions, including: anxiety, fear, insomnia, tension, irritability, tachycardia, sweating, etc.
What are the main risks?
- Normalize violent behavior: desensitize the child to the seriousness of the violence;
- Imitation of violent behavior
- Not knowing how to distinguish fiction from reality, experiencing fear, agitation and discomfort.
- Gradually develop relationship difficulties and isolation.
Some tips for parents ..
The context in which any visions of violent content arise is a fundamental element that affects potential negative consequences.
The parent is the mediator between the child and reality, he is the one who helps the child to attach meaning to experiences, transfer values, learning and boundaries.
A child still does not have a self-regulation of his or her own emotional states, it needs an adult emotional modulator and containerwhich accompanies him in the discovery and expression of emotions.
It is essential that the parent is next to the child during the dissemination of raw content, has the task of explaining and weakening the images, having a dialogue with the child and reassuring it.
Use of technology yes, but monitored
Unfortunately, parents often have congested daily rhythms, and the technological tool becomes a means of keeping children busy while dedicating themselves to other things, sometimes neglecting the content displayed.
It can be understood that in some moments it can be a resource and a help, but it is important that the child is educated in other activities, involves himself in him, regains enthusiasm for precious relational moments that can not be replaced by any digital tool, such as reading a fairy tale, playing with constructions, etc.
It is therefore important that:
- The activities that the child performs with technological tools are monitored by an adult to prevent exposure to violent content;
- The time the child dedicates to the use of technological equipment is marked daily by a fixed limit defined by the parents;
- Viewing violent content is rare and occurs in the presence of an adult;
- Involve the child in manual, imaginative activities and games;
- The child is assured of daily socializing activities outside with other peers;
- The use of technological tools does not interfere with relational family moments, such as meals.
Clearly, the age of the child makes a difference, however education in non-violence should remain a warning throughout the upbringing of one’s childreneven more so in the present, where the daily news is constantly colored by the criminal news of inhuman tragedies.
The child’s use of technological tools can therefore only constitute a resource if it is closely monitored, in time, gradually and in terms of content; if it happens within a care relationship and if it does not become a channel of isolation and alienation.
By Dr. Giulia Gregorini
Psychologist – Psychotherapist