Media Violence + Family Conflict and Impulsivity Linked to Teen Aggression

Teenagers who are exposed to TV and film violence, as well as high levels of household conflict, are at risk of engaging in aggressive behaviors, according to a new study.

Especially prone to aggressive tendencies are those who also have high levels of impulsivity, researchers discovered.

The research also found that parental monitoring helps protect against aggressive behavior.

“Accounting for all the risk factors we looked at in this study, parental monitoring continued to have a strong protective effect,” said lead author Dr. Atika Khurana, a professor at the University of Oregon and director of graduate programs in the UO’s prevention science program.

“It was quite interesting that for adolescents who had high levels of media violence exposure, family conflict, impulsivity and sensation-seeking, parental monitoring still continued to provide a protective effect against aggressive tendencies,” she added.

For the study, researchers conducted an online survey of some 2,000 teens between the ages of 14 and 17, equally representing both blacks and whites.

The survey captured teen viewing of 29 mainstream top-grossing mainstream movies from 2014 and 34 black-oriented movies from 2013 and 2014, as well as the viewing of the top 30 television shows in the 2014-15 season for adolescents, all of which were coded to account for acts of violence occurring in five-minute increments, the researchers explained.

Teens were asked what shows they had watched, how many times they viewed each, and whether they had engaged recently in a physical fight, face-to-face bullying, and cyberbullying as measures of aggression.

To measure family conflict, the teens were asked if their home life involved criticism, hitting each other, cursing, arguing, and throwing things when angry. Teens also replied to questions about how often their parents spent time talking with them, engaging in fun activities, and family meal time, the researchers reported.

Other questions probed parental supervision of media use, such as restricting and forbidding the viewing of violence and adult content, and parent-led discussions about media violence, which often does not result in consequences, versus the ramifications of violence in real life.

Impulsivity and sensation-seeking levels were measured using widely-used self-report questionnaires.

“Media violence is a known risk factor for aggression in adolescents,” Khurana said. “The purpose here was to see how strong a risk factor it is compared to other risk and protective factors and how it operates in tandem with these factors.”

According to the study’s findings, media violence alone is a strong risk factor for aggression, even when the adolescents were low in all the other risk factors.

“The effect is no doubt greater if you also have other risk factors such as family conflict and impulsivity, but it is nonetheless significant even for those at lower risk in other categories,” Khurana said.

While parental supervision was associated with lower levels for aggression, this study only captured the self-reporting of adolescents in a single round of data collection, she noted. A longitudinal study is needed to clarify how strongly parental involvement impacts aggressive behavior over time and if it can alter the effect of media violence exposure, she added.

For effectiveness, parental intervention in media viewing needs to be age appropriate, she said. Actions that restrict or forbid viewing of violent media works best with younger adolescents, but can be counterproductive with older teens, she noted.

“Communication style is also important,” Khurana said. “Setting boundaries but allowing some autonomy and independence is vital.”

The study was published in the journal Aggressive Behavior.

Source: University of Oregon

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