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Aggression and the Media

Question: I have a child in my class for the second year in a row who is aggressive with the other children and uses inappropriate language.  He is allowed to watch movies as home such as “Halloween,” “Friday the l3th,” and “Silence of the Lambs.”  He also plays a “Rocky” video game.  He uses classroom toys as weapons, tells the other children that he is going to kill them, and hits the other children.  When I ask him to do something he tells me “no” or ignores the request.  His parents are not together and neither one wants to make him upset during their time with him so they let him stay up or watch what he wants.

Myrna Shure:
   I can understand how difficult this must be for you to be experiencing such disruptive and dysfunctional behavior without support from the boy’s parents to resolve this.  I suggest that you mention to the parent you see that research shows that steady exposure to violence can last for many years, and that a significant percentage of adults are still affected long after viewing violent video games and movies in early childhood.  While it is impossible to completely restrict a child from watching these kinds of movies, or playing violent video games, you can try to explain to the parent that they can increase aggression and other hurtful behaviors. Because it is probably a matter of not wanting to upset the child, you can suggest the following to the parent.

•    Ask him how he feels when he watches the movies or plays the games.
•    If a bad feeling:  Ask him if he really wants to feel that way.
•    If a good feeling: Ask if he can think of something else he can do to feel that way.
•    When he really hurts, or threatens to hurt another child, ask him “What might happen when you do that?”  Then ask, “Do you want that to happen?”  “What can you do so that will not happen?”

These kinds of questions will give him a sense of control, but in a more positive way than he is exhibiting now. 

If the boy’s parents are unable, or unwilling to try the above, I would suggest that they seek outside help, as a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker may be able to help them understand the seriousness of how they’re raising him, and also, help them find more healthy styles of discipline.   

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