What does research say about the effect violent media on children's mental health?
Research evidence over the last decade has increasingly suggested that exposure to action films and video games isn't really a risk factor for adverse outcomes. There was a lot of hyperbole about this, even from some scholars, but the evidence just never really came together. It seems to have been something we call a "moral panic"...people's moral and advocacy goals were mistaken for good science. But more and more research studies are coming out finding that media violence doesn't even really correlate with aggression, let alone cause it. Nobody is saying that every parent should run out and buy their 6-year-old the latest Grand Theft Auto video game, but if you took him or her to see the latest Captain America movie...it's unlikely to influence their behavior.
I see my 17 month old daughter experiment with aggression (hitting others). Is it normal?
Oh it's absolutely normal. Violence and aggression aren't really things we learn... we actually kind of unlearn them, or perhaps a better way to think of it is that we learn to put breaks on our aggressive impulses. If we're honest, most of us still have those feelings... someone cuts us off on the highway, say, or says something insulting to us. There's the little part of our brain that wants to lash out. But hopefully most of us learn impulse control to restrain those impulses. That comes along gradually in childhood. Moderate levels of aggression allow us to defend ourselves and our loved ones, stand up for our beliefs, takes risks, compete with others in business, sports, etc., debate those we disagree with. It becomes pathological once that aggression becomes difficult for the person to control.
How does your research inform your parenting?
Watching my own son grow up, I've been amazed by how resilient kids really are. I think having the experience of parenting has helped me to see kids as fully fleshed 3-dimensional people, not widgets mechanically shaped by their environments.On the flip side, being a researcher has opened my eyes to just how much bad information parents get. There are tons of clickbait newspaper headlines out there, often based on dodgy studies (or no studies at all.) They tend to be "sky is falling" claims about all the various things doing harm to our children. As a researcher I have the background that helps me to cut through some of this nonsense and, perhaps, not worry so much about silly things and relax and enjoy parenting.
What has surprised you most about fatherhood?
I actually enjoy it a lot more than I necessarily thought I would! I've never been a big baby/kid person naturally before I became a father, but developing the relationship with your child...something like a combination of mentor/guide/friend/even "boss" sometimes, it's really a curious blend. The most amazing thing is having someone share your interests and being able to introduce them to things that were important to you growing up, and see them develop that same excitement. Like helping your kid become a fan of Dr. Who...