Study: Gun violence in movies leads to more violent playtime

Oct. 10, 2017—Letting your child watch a movie with gun violence might not seem like that big of a deal. But alarming new findings show that this sort of media can have a bigger impact on kids than you might expect.

Kids who saw guns used in movies were more interested in playing with guns in real life, a new study found. Even scarier, they were more likely to pull the trigger of a real gun that they found during playtime.

The gun effect

The study involved 104 kids between ages 8 and 12, grouped into pairs of friends or relatives. Half of the pairs were shown a 20-minute edited version of a PG-rated movie that showed characters using guns. The other half saw the same edited movie—but with the gun scenes removed. Afterward each pair played in a room with a toy-filled cabinet for 20 minutes. One of the cabinet drawers contained a handgun that had been modified so it couldn't fire.

Of the 52 pairs, 43 pairs found the gun in the drawer and 22 pairs had one or both kids handle it. Only 14 pairs gave the gun to an adult or told them about it.

The kids who watched the gun version of the movie weren't more likely to find the hidden gun or even more likely to touch it. But they did pull the trigger far more often, and they handled the gun longer. They also played with the gun more aggressively—sometimes pointing it at others. Chillingly, one boy pulled the trigger 35 times and pointed the gun out a window at people in the street. Another pulled the trigger at the temple of his partner's head.

The findings don't prove that all kids who watch gun violence in the movies or on TV will act violent themselves. For one thing, the study was small. It also only looked at children from urban or suburban neighborhoods—and it's unclear how previous experience with guns, particularly in a rural setting, might affect the kids' reactions.

Still, the findings suggest that it may be worth limiting your child's exposure to gun violence—in movies or other media.

Read the full study in JAMA Pediatrics.

What parents should know

Children and guns don't mix—and this study reinforces the importance of keeping deadly weapons out of kids' hands. The best way to do that—and protect your child from a tragic accident—is to keep guns out of your home, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If you do have a gun at home, it's crucial to take the proper precautions. You should always keep the gun unloaded and locked up, with the bullets secured in a separate place. By some estimates, 1.7 million U.S. children live in homes with guns that aren't stored safely. Don't let your child be one of them.

Learn what else you can do to protect kids from gun injuries with these tips.

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.