Is Media Normalizing Violence?

By Cynthia Mitchell

June 20, 2022

On the morning of May 24, 2022, parents walked their children to school buses en route to Robb Elementary School.  In this seemingly normal school-day routine in the small, town of Uvalde, Texas, no one could have imagined the turn of events that would take place just hours later.

Eighteen-year-old, Salvador Rolando Ramos, a quiet loner, and purported fan of video games like Call of Duty, and Modern Warfare, shot his grandmother with whom he lived, beginning a rampage of terror that would end with the death of 19 students and two teachers before Ramos, himself was killed by police.

America is increasingly losing its children to violence.  Just this year, the nation has suffered 213 mass shootings and 27 school shootings. It begs the question, what’s driving this violent trend?

In America, a child or teen is arrested every 45 seconds.  In 2019, U.S. law enforcement made 696,620 arrests of persons under the age of 18. In a given year, more U.S. children die from gun violence than from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and opioids combined. According to The Children’s Defense Fund, “U.S. children and teens are 15 times more likely to die from gunfire than their peers in 31 other high-income countries combined.” While Ramos’ motives and mental health are certainly factors, we would be remiss not to ask if the media’s excessive use of violence is influencing our kids.

On average, American children view 200,000 violent acts on TV before age 18. Weapons appear on prime-time television an average of nine times per hour. And if you might think cartoons are better think again. Overall, 46% of TV violence occurs in cartoons. Popular cartoons contain 20 to 25 violent acts each hour — five times as many as prime-time programs.  Cartoons often combine violence with humor (67%) and are less likely to show the long-term consequences of violence. Children’s inability to discern the real from the imaginary, make them especially vulnerable to messaging and images. Cartoons have been shown to increase the likelihood of aggressive and antisocial behavior.

Movies are even more extreme. Studies reveal that 91% of movies on TV contain violence, including extreme violence. Researchers have also cited the amount of gun violence in top-grossing PG-13 films has more than tripled since 1985. In 2012, PG-13 films contained more gun violence than R-rated films. Film ratings, and film warnings have, in fact, been shown to attract children. In 2003, 10 million adolescents aged 10 to 14 years, including 1 million 10-year-olds, were exposed to R-rated films.

Exposure to violence may desensitize children, decreasing their feelings of empathy, and making them less capable of connecting with the pain and suffering of others.  They may become more fearful of the world around them and may more likely become aggressive and harmful to others. The American Academy of Family Physicians, cites “a growing body of literature showing a strong correlation between the perpetration of violence and exposure to violence in media, digital media, and entertainment.” These leading physicians warn violence in media is a serious public health issue. The American Psychological Association (APA) believes “many factors, both individual and social, contribute to an individual’s propensity to use violence, and many of these factors are within our power to change.” The APA goes on to recommend the “development of the mass media’s potential to be part of the solution to violence, not just a contributor to the problem.”

The World Health Organization, The Children’s Defense Fund, The American Academy of Family Physicians, and The American Psychological Association’s Commission on Violence and Youth strongly draw a correlation between violence in media, entertainment, and youth violence. There’s little doubt that violence is socialized and normalized through cartoons, television, and movies.

What will you do to protect our youth? Click here to remind the media and entertainment community that CHILDREN ARE WATCHING.

About The Author

Cynthia Mitchell is CEO of Creator Films, a media company producing faith-infused content for children and their adults. One voice by itself doesn’t carry much weight, but when a community of people mass together and unify around a common vision, we can change the world of entertainment.