By Tylar Bloch
The recent tragedies in Israel have reverberated throughout the internet, as the gruesome events are being captured, uploaded, and reshared by netizens around the globe. Consider the video of an Israeli soldier being dragged out of a tank that circulated on social media. Or a post on TikTok showing an Israeli boy being kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. These clips are brief, but the magnitude of violence they depict are shocking. Not only that, but the high volume and virality of such content means that it may be difficult to escape it—especially when it comes to our kids.
Because much of the violent content is considered newsworthy, it remains on these platforms for extended periods of time. And while the content may indeed be newsworthy to adults, kids are being regularly exposed to such content, a group that is ill prepared to mentally process such traumatic events.
The issue of gratuitous violence is certainly not new. For example, news stations have for many years been under scrutiny for their extensive coverage of mass shootings on their programs. Many have disputed whether such graphic accounts of gun violence are necessary to fully inform viewers about current events.
What is new, however, is that kids can now access violent content much more easily. Curated video feeds and algorithms that favor extreme content make platforms such as TikTok especially conducive for young people to access graphic materials. Which is why the recent surge in violent content related to the Hamas terrorist attacks is no exception.
One of the negative impacts of kids being exposed to gratuitous violence is that, as researchers have shown, they may grow to view such violence as normal and gradually become desensitized to it. Additionally, as family psychology expert Justin Coulson explains, the normalization of violence implicitly teaches kids that violence is an “acceptable” way of resolving conflict. Furthermore, as Savvy Cyber Kids Founder Ben Halpert highlights, such content can be downright traumatic for young people:
You can’t unsee kidnaping, torture, rape, and murder once exposed. While adults may understand the horrific context and have the resources to reach out for counseling when needed, this kind of exposure can be scarring and traumatic for children—even more so when it happens over and over, from one video to the next.
Evidently, while it’s important to keep young people informed about the world, parents should carefully consider these consequences and realize the psychological risks that are at stake.
For these reasons, as we deal with the ongoing consequences of the attacks in Israel, parents should play an active role in helping young people better navigate and understand violent content online. In particular, they can do this by:
- Explaining the context and consequences of violence
- Minimizing kids’ screen time, especially before bedtime
- Allowing media use only in open areas like living rooms
- Teaching non-violent conflict resolution
- Encouraging open dialogue about current events
Our hearts are with Israel during this troubling time. Let’s make sure that our kids understand what it does and does not mean about the world we live in.
- How do you feel when you come across violent content online?
- Are there specific platforms in which you come across more violent content?
- What are examples of non-violent ways to resolve conflict?
- What are strategies or cues that you can use to manage how much time you spend consuming online content?
- When you are feeling scared or anxious, what are 5 things that you can do to refocus?
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