Children more upset by 'real' TV violence

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Technology Correspondent

Children find violence in news programmes and nature documentaries more upsetting than in video games or films, according to new research. Almost nine in 10 children aged between 13 and 18 have seen videos with "18" certificates, and only one-third said they found the violence upsetting.

But 82 per cent of the children interviewed by Guy Cumberbatch, senior lecturer in applied psychology at Aston University, found violence in news more upsetting than in videos or computer games.

The research, involving 305 children aged between 13 and 18, backs up work to be published later this year by Mark Allerton, a researcher at the Institute of Education, which found that children find TV violence in real-life programmes the most worrying because they know that it is real.

"Children can tell the difference between fantasy and reality," Mr Allerton said. "The more real an image is, the more frightening they find it."

Mr Allerton believes that efforts to increase regulation of videos, put forward by a number of child psychologists, notably Elizabeth Newson, are misplaced. Last year Ms Newson wrote to MPs saying that she felt a "steady diet" of violent videos and films would deaden children to its effects in real life.

However, Mr Allerton said: "It's plain to everybody that those measures are not going to work with children's increased access to all sorts of media. Rather than making these things into forbidden fruit, we should be teaching children to grow up to be critical viewers who can deal with something that they find scary."

In the Aston research, 63 per cent of the children said they had never been upset by violence in films or videos, and 72 per cent said there was a difference between violence in videos and in real life. For computer games, the figures were 93 per cent and 83 per cent. "Children don't find fiction frightening; or if they do, they often enjoy it: people like horror films," said Mr Allerton.

However, his work has found that news programmes from war zoners and wildlife documentaries in which animals kill each other can be more traumatic for children than videos.

His survey found that children regulated their own viewing and distinguished carefully between images they find "pleasurably" frightening and truly frightening.