News and documentaries have a greater impact on children’s perception of violence on television than film and drama, according to a study published on Monday.
Children are more prone than adults to judge scenes as violent according to their real-life consequences, claims the study by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, the British Board of Film Classification and the BBC.
It also claims how “violent” children found an image depended on whether the violence was justified – and how closely it related to the child’s life.
The report, which surveys how children aged nine to 13 react to on-screen images of violence on TV and in the cinema, also found that children made clear distinction between on-screen fictional violence and real-life violence – and found the latter more disturbing.
As part of the study, the children were shown clips which included news reports of the Holy Cross Primary School pupils in Belfast running the gauntlet of abuse from protesting adults as they tried to get to school; scenes from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and a sports item featuring an attack by a footballer on another player.
According to the report, How Children Interpret Screen Violence, it is the first study to specifically investigate what makes an image seem violent to children.
The group was chosen because parents of children between nine and 13 expressed the least confidence in being able to regulate their TV viewing.
The study reinforced “the significance of images in television news, and the continuing responsibilities of news and factual programme-makers to be aware of the impact [on children] of their output”.
It said although children often saw news together with other family members, in a “safe” context, real events on the news had the greatest effect, “especially if the consequences of the violence involved other children or people with whom they could identify”.
Conversely, children empathised less with items on the news with which they could not identify or which occur elsewhere in the world, unless that “other” place is recognisable, such as the US, the study claimed.
By Wale Azeez