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'Violent media content leaves huge negative impressions on youth' - Dr Deepali Rao
In a thought-provoking lecture on "Modern-day Parenting: Media and its relationship with Aggression in Youth", Dr Deepali Rao said that violent media content used increasingly in different media especially visual media like television, films, TV serials, video games, etc leaves huge negative impression on the minds of youth.

The lecture organised by VIMHANS at India Habitat Centre's Casuarina Hall, New Delhi on 18 May, 2017 explored the role of media and its relationship with aggression in youth. A clinical psychologist, Dr Rao presented findings of some surveys conducted on children that showed that children learnt what they saw on screen, after which they would try to repeat them in their behaviour. She said that TV viewing begins as early as at the age of 2 and children between the age 8 to 18 watch an average of around 10,000 violent acts a year on television, which is the most preferred medium for 98.8 per cent children as found in a survey conducted in Delhi.

She observed that there has been an increasing trend of use of violent content in media and "even children's media has violence which finds a way". This, she said, is expressed through behaviour, thoughts and emotions. While elaborating on how media violence affects youth behaviour she said that aggressive behaviour present in childhood, learnt through TV continues in young adults or adolescents.

Speaking about its impact, she said that generally the youth who watched violent scenes were found more aggressive, this she called the result of 'copycat syndrome'. She said that cross-sectional studies linked repeated exposure to violent video games with aggression and violent behaviour in the real world. On the question whether violence shown in media was leaving negative impact on children or whether it was violence in the youth which was being shown in media, Dr Rao said that that was like a chicken and egg puzzle. However, she stated that even exposure to music videos and lyrics creates attitudes and beliefs for accepting violence.

Brain studies have found that extensive viewing may lead to large number of scripts stored in long-term memory that end up influencing behaviour. It also leads to 'blunting emotional response'. This "emotional desensitisation results in heightened likelihood of violent thoughts and behaviours."

What the doctor called 'observational learning' in which one imitates the act, she said that boys are more likely to be affected by media violence. While girls may tend to fantasy violence, boys tend to human violence. It was despite the fact that "girls tend to spend more time than boys in watching TV". Reflecting on socio-economic factors, she said that it has been found that children of lower social income were more prone to watching and getting affected.

How to tackle the problem? As stopping children from watching was way too difficult at times, Dr Deepali Rao said that what mattered was how parents regulated their children's media viewing and what parents themselves did. The handy tips which could be useful in this regard are: Talking with children, increasing children's engagement in activities other than watching television or other media, setting up computers and video game sets in common areas, spending time to gather information about what media content is appropriate for children's viewing, not just telling but making children think and evaluate the positive and negative effects of media, providing media education and, educating about realistic effects of violence.

A consultant clinical psychologist, Dr Rao suggested that some attitudinal changes could be effective through countering violent message by training because studies have also shown some success. She added that heavy exposure has its own effect but if children's media viewing is limited, this can have good effect for which one needs to find those 'teachable moments'.

However, media content is not the only factor for a child's aggressiveness; there are other factors that contribute to a child's behaviour, she said. A video clip showed that violence is prevalent everywhere in media today, sometimes in horrible way.

According to an existing research, media violence is pervasive: 90 per cent of movies, 68 per cent of video games, 60 per cent of TV shows and 15 per cent of all music videos include some reflections of violent content. Thus, kids are exposed to a whole range of violent content, with the fact that children these days spend about seven and half hours per day with media. Although no one single factor can cause a non-violent presence to act aggressively but heavy exposure to violent media can definitely be a risk factor for violent behaviour.

A senior lawyer Ashok Arora said that parents' not devoting time with children was one of the prominent causes of children getting to watch more media contents.

Another participant talked about the utility of violence which isn't always negative as in the case of wars of moral causes. Doctors, teachers, academicians and activists participated in the talk and interaction.

(The author, Manzar Imam, is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.)

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