War journalism’s collateral damage
As Middle Eastern media coverage of the region turmoil regularly pushes the boundaries of “graphic imagery,” LAU Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Ketty Sarouphim cautions against the negative effects on children.
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Through their coverage of Middle East turmoil, Lebanese and Arab television channels and newspapers have been unafraid to show seemingly endless footage of bloodied, tortured corpses and decapitated bodies, and their mourning relatives.
While these images are shocking to adults, they are able to view them through a certain level of understanding of the situation. But what about child viewers who may stumble upon such images? How does such imagery affect them?
Dr. Ketty Sarouphim, associate professor of psychology at LAU Beirut, who specializes in educational psychology, says that such violent images undoubtedly have a negative effect on children.
The effect of violence in the media on children has been documented time and time again over the years, she says, and “without any exception [the studies] have shown that children who watch violence are more prone to becoming aggressive themselves.”
“There is no doubt in our mind that watching violence is detrimental in all respects. There is no advantage to watching violent images at all,” Sarouphim adds.
Those child viewers will be more prone to displaying such violent behavior themselves. For example, it will “make it seem alright that adults are hitting one another and think ‘why don’t I do the same? It must be OK to do that’.”
Other children, she says, may have nightmares, or wake up during the night and start screaming, after seeing such images, but this is natural, Sarouphim says.
If children do happen to see violent images, it is fundamental that parents honestly discuss these and what they represent with their kids.
“It is OK to be truthful with children,” she says before adding, “It just depends on how we say it: So we shouldn’t lie, but instead say, ‘yes there is a war in Syria, yes there are problems in the world.’ It is fine to tell children all of this.”
Childhood fears generally peak from the age of 4 to 10, Sarouphim says, and it is during this time that worries over being separated from their parents are strongest. Fears sparked by witnessing such images in the media may manifest themselves through anxiety over their parents’ safety.
Telling children the truth and reassuring them is key Sarouphim advises: “I will do everything in my power to keep you safe… It is my job to worry, and not yours. So let me worry about this, and you finish playing.”