By Clara Pirani
CHILDREN are more likely to act aggressively or feel upset after they have watched violent films or television programs.
British scientists have also found that children who passively watched television were as likely to be distressed by violent images as those who played interactive computer games.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham analysed data from six laboratory studies into children's behaviour after they had watched scenes of violence.
They found there was "consistent evidence of an association between younger children watching media violence and showing more aggressive play and behaviour".
The researchers concluded that parents should treat media viewing with the same caution as medications or chemicals around the home.
"Carelessness with material that contains extreme violent and sexual imagery might even be regarded as a form of emotional maltreatment of the child," lead author Professor Kevin Browne wrote in the medical journal The Lancet.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists spokesman Gregory de Moore agreed that young children were influenced by violent images.
"Young children under the age of seven will have great difficulty distinguishing fact from fantasy, and often those children mimic what they see on TV, even though they don't really know what they are doing," he said.
"As they get older, they start to differentiate reality from fiction but then they are more likely to have a physiological response such as increased agitation that we know is associated with impending violent actions."
He said computer and video games posed a particular challenge for parents trying to monitor their child's exposure to violence.
"Most parents understand the classification system for movies, but computer games are a new ballpark," Dr de Moore said. "Most parents can't even use the games."
Jane Roberts, president of Young Media Australia, a national group that advocates responsible media viewing, said more than 75 per cent of computer or video games showed some level of violence.
Ms Roberts said children received mixed message from schools and the media. She said some schools had implemented successful programs to teach children that violence was not an appropriate way to respond to conflict.
"But then the child goes home and plays computer games where they play the role of a violent perpetrator."
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