The Power Of Media Imagery

With the swipe of a finger, we can view anything we want to. Furthermore, when news media covers a violent or terroristic act, society watches it: over and over. Whether it’s a school shooting, bombing or tragic accident we have access to it and we see it. It’s almost first-hand.

This kind of digital “rubbernecking,” is not uncommon. Research indicates that scanning our environment for threats and in turn, focusing on the bad or the dangerous is hardwired into our DNA. We have the capacity to anticipate and perceive danger so if we hear of danger, we look! So, what happens when that danger shifts from the car wreck on the freeway to the global community? Media has made our world so much smaller that we can more readily “assess” dangers than ever before. The bad and the dangerous may be in our community or across the continent, and still it matters to us, and we watch it.

So, what are the implications? Contrary to some reports, most of the studies addressing whether or not watching violence in turn, causes more violent acts remain inconclusive. There’s nothing solid that proves, for example, that playing violent video games will make you a violent person and induce a desire to kill.

This doesn’t mean this kind of digital exposure to violence should not be addressed.

In my opinion, the implications should be explored from a trauma perspective. As we’ve discussed trauma threatens a person’s sense of normalcy and control- it’s typically unexpected and undesirable. In this way, watching repeated footage of violence has traumatic implications. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms like hyper-vigilance, excessive worry and nightmares can surface from what we call second-hand trauma. In the mental health community, professionals are regularly cautioned to “process” or “release” the traumatic stories they hear. Otherwise, the trauma has the potential to build, making professionals ineffective and potentially unhelpful to their clients. The question must be asked: By repeatedly viewing violent news coverage or amateur you tubers, are we traumatizing ourselves, our families?

This question is especially pertinent to raising children whose brains aren’t fully developed. Children’s capacity to make meaning and reason is less- especially in younger children who are more concrete thinkers. I tell parents that kids are observant investigators but they aren’t good detectives- they soak up facts like a sponge but they need our help to decipher the evidence. Repeated mention of shooting, catastrophes or even “bad guys” can leave a child scare and confused. Imagine what seeing it, would do?

So, even if research doesn’t link exposure to violent media with subsequent violent acts, in your communities and homes ask yourself, “What kind of ethic are you creating? How do you use media to inform that ethic?”

Remember how sponge-like children are. They learn what’s important from their caregivers- if they watch you catch a thrill or entertainment from the latest violent sensation-they’ll want to watch it too. And if they’re not old enough now, in a few years they’ll watch on their own. Before you flip open your laptop or open up the You Tube application, ask: “What are my intentions in viewing this? How is it shaping my health and the health of my family?”

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