7 Ways to Curb Kids' Exposure to Violence
Limit Violent Video Games and Media
The AAP advises limiting children's TV and entertainment screen time to two hours or less per day (one hour or less per day for video game playing), and to educational, nonviolent content. Know the ratings of the TV shows and movies your children watch before they're allowed to tune in, and pay attention to the type of media you're taking in while your kids are around. The AAP also encourages parents to look into a video game's rating and content before allowing a child to buy or download it. Every week, violent video games and online games/apps hit the market and become top-sellers. The AAP notes that parents should encourage play of nonviolent games that involve multiple players. "A typical scenario pits our young hero against a horde of hostile foes," the AAP says. "Too much time spent absorbed in violent fantasy may foster social isolation."
Consider using your TV's and electronic device's parental controls and time-limit settings to help you keep tabs on your child's media and tech use. Also, check out sites like Common Sense Media for reviews and age ratings of various media for kids.
Think Twice About Toy Guns (and Real Guns)
The AAP also encourages parents to keep real firearms out of the home or safely locked away, out of sight from kids. Homicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15 through 24 in the U.S. "The absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents," according to an AAP policy statement. "Safe gun storage (guns unloaded and locked, ammunition locked separately) reduces children's risk of injury." The AAP also notes that teen suicide risk is strongly associated with the availability of a firearm. If your child has shown signs of depression or violent behavior, it is especially important to prevent access to firearms.
The AAP supports the ASK (Asking Save Kids) Campaign, which urges parents to ask "Is there a gun where my child plays?" About 40 percent of U.S. homes with children have guns, many left unlocked or loaded — and several hundred children are killed or seriously injured each year as a result.
Address All Sides of Bullying
Children who are bullied may be at higher risk for depression and suicidal thoughts, and those who witness it may feel fear and insecurity about going to school. In rare cases, bullying can lead to the victim making bomb or shooting threats against their school. Children who bully others may be more likely to get into frequent fights, and carry a weapon.
Encourage your child to pledge to take action against bullying. Familiarize yourself with the signs of bullying and the new social media apps kids are using for cyberbullying. If your child is bullied, seek mental health support for him and work with his school to address the incident immediately. If possible, encourage your child's school to have remediation support or counseling (not only punishment guidelines) for children who bully, which can help address the causes of their behavior and risk for recurrence.
Remove Kids from Violence at Home
The sooner you can plan your "path to safety" and end your child's exposure to abuse, the safer she will be and the better the chance to help prevent her from becoming violent someday.
"Tell your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent," the NDVH advises. "Tell them that neither you, nor they, are at fault or are the cause of the violence, and that when anyone is being violent, it is important to stay safe."
Choose Your Words and Discipline Methods Carefully
In addition to spousal and parent-child conflicts, sibling conflicts are very common. Sibling aggression is normal, but parents should try to step in before sibling fights turn physical and find healthy ways to address siblings who hit and fight physically.
Encourage Non-Violent Hobbies and Quality Family Time
Spending time together as a family can boost kids' self-esteem and help you stay in tune with your child's mental health. Try to have media-free family meals at least a few times a week, and ask questions that will get kids talking.
Encourage both girls and boys to express their emotions in a healthy way from a young age. Talk with your children about their exposure to violence — whether they have witnessed bullying in school or seen firearms or violent TV shows at friends' homes — and their questions or thoughts about it. You may be surprised to learn that some children (even ones with minimal exposure to violence at home) think the solution to being bullied is to fight back physically, or think that violence in the media is "cool."
Take Kids' Violent Behavior Seriously
"Parents and teachers should be careful not to minimize these behaviors in children," the AACAP says. Kids may not "grow out of it." Adults should speak up if their child is a victim of such behavior, and seek professional mental health treatment if their own child has intense and frequent outbursts or other "red flag" behaviors — especially if they overlap with other risk factors for violence, such as: a family history of violence, exposure to violence in the media or community, presence of firearms in the home, personal use of drugs or alcohol, family stress (divorce, physical/sexual abuse, or parent's substance abuse), or socioeconomic issues (poverty or parent's unemployment). The earlier a child gets treatment — with continued follow-up care — the better the chance of reducing the impact of these factors for violence.
In addition to help that may be available through your child's school, there are many additional resources for families dealing with children who are violent or at-risk for becoming violent: