How TV Gun Violence Can Affect Kids’ Reaction to a Real Gun

Talk to your children about guns in movies and games
Child playing violent video game

Many of us parents might wonder what or if our children soak up anything from watching a television show or movie with lots of gun violence. A recent study suggests movies and TV do influence how our children react to the presence of a real firearm.

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The study, conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University and others, looked at a group of 104 children ages 8 to 12 who watched a PG-rated movie clip. One group saw a clip with gun violence while the second group watched a clip with the gun violence edited out.

The children were then taken to a room where they could play with toys and games. A real gun, modified so that it could not fire, was placed in a cabinet drawer in the room.

Researchers said most of the kids found the gun and touched the gun. However, the children who had just viewed the movie clips with gun violence were more than twice as likely to handle the gun and pull the trigger.

Showing interest in guns

The results of the study were telling, says child psychologist Kate Eshleman, PsyD. She did not take part in the study.

“The take-home message from this particular study is that the kids who saw the guns were more likely to show interest in them,” Dr. Eshleman says.

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The study highlights how important it is for parents to be aware of what their kids are seeing on TV, devices and in video games, she says.

When children view media that contains gun violence, she believes it’s best to have a discussion about it right then.

“It’s very important for parents to be aware of what their kids are being exposed to,” Dr. Eshleman says. “Know the games that they’re playing and the movies that they’re watching, and be aware of what the characters in those films are doing so you as a parent can start the conversation.”

If you own guns, lock them up

Parents need to make sure that guns that are kept in the home are locked away safely, Dr. Eshleman says. At the same time, parents need to keep the lines of communication open. 

“One thing to keep in mind is that different families feel differently about weapons. For example, some homes have them for safety or some homes have them for hunting purposes. So parents should make sure that kids understand why guns are in the home and expectations regarding them,” Dr. Eshleman says.

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“Talk about guns with kids and how to be safe — what to do if you encounter a gun at home and what to do if you encounter one at someone else’s home.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), guns are the third leading cause of death for children in the United States, with nearly 1,300 children dying from gun-related injuries each year.

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA.

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