This literature review will go over cross-cultural research articles which study nightmares in children, particularly what could be the cause of some of the nightmares in children. One article studied the relationship between daytime symptomatology (daily effects) and nightmare frequency in school-aged children (Schredl et al., 2009). The article set out to find whether social and personal events were causing nightmares in the children, and furthermore wanted to find whether the childrens parents underestimated the frequency of their childrens nightmares (Schredl et al., 2009). To expand on this research, a second article was reviewed which studied the relationship between negative media children are exposed to in their waking life on childrens dreaming life (Schredl et al., 2008).
This study sought to find a correlation between high amounts of television watched, computer games played and higher frequency of nightmares (Schredl et al., 2008). As a final further expansion on the research presented, the third article reviewed addressed some of the limitations the previous studied encountered and studied the same hypothesis: exposure to negative media would heighten nightmare frequency in children (Van den Bulck, 2004). The findings from these articles offered information on the frequency of nightmares in children and how that frequency relates to external and internal events.
The first article reviewed is of Schredl et al. (2009) which produced a study that examined the relationship between daytime symptomatology and nightmare frequency in school-aged children. The study involved eliciting day time symptoms and nightmare frequency directly from the children, with an age range of eight years to eleven years old. In addition to the childrens information, the researchers collected questionnaires by the parents about their childrens dreaming (Schredl et al., 2009). The researchers hypothesized that the parents would show an underestimation of nightmare frequency (Schredl et al., 2009). Furthermore, the researchers hypothesized that there would be a stronger relationship found between nightmare frequency and daytime triggers in the data from children than in the data from the parents (Schredl et al., 2009). 4,834 parents and 4,531 of their children participated in the study where they completed questionnaires regarding sleep behaviour as well as social behaviour; the parents answering questions about the children and the children answering about themselves (Schredl et al., 2009).
The results of the study found that there is a very clear underestimation of nightmare frequency by parents (Schredl et al., 2009). The often category for the frequency of nightmares was chosen fifty percent more often by children than the parents (Schredl et al., 2009). This research found a high correlation between emotional problems and the questionnaire completed on social behaviour by the children showing that children who worry, having anxieties, and feel unhappy have more frequent nightmares (Schredl et al., 2009). Some of the other items from the sleep questionnaire included measures of watching TV prior to bedtime, playing computer games prior to bedtime, and stressors in the family; all of which were not separately discussed in the results or discussion sections.
Other researchers set out to find if media could take part in provoking nightmares in children. It is estimated that American children spend six hours and 32 minutes per day engaging in media such as television, movies, computer games, and internet surfing (Schredl et al., 2008). The second study reviewed attempted to answer whether negative or aggressive media has negative effects on childrens dreams (Schredl et al., 2008). The researchers hypothesized that frequent television watching and viewing of violent television, or aggressive computer games have a relation to higher nightmare frequency (Schredl et al., 2008). The participants involved 252 children with an age range of nine to thirteen years who completed questionnaires on dream recall, nightmare frequency and amount of time spent watching TV or playing computer games (Schredl et al., 2008). The original hypothesis was not supported in this study. Results found television viewing behaviour and computer game playing before bed was not related to emotional tone of dreams in children (Schredl et al., 2008).
Previous studies had found significant correlation between negative dreaming and media use, the next study reviewed tested a similar hypothesis and obtained different findings. The final study review tested the types of content from different medias which appeared in childrens dreams, whether negative or pleasant (Van den Bulck, 2004). The study surveyed 2,546 children ages twelve to eighteen who filled out questionnaires regarding time spent engaged in media programs: television, computer games, movies (Van den Bulck, 2004). This study found that about 25 percent of the lowest age group studied have TV related nightmares monthly; moreover, 10 percent of them have TV related nightmares weekly (Van den Bulck, 2004). The higher age group has significantly less nightmares in general as well as TV related nightmares (Van den Bulck, 2004). In addition to collecting data on negative dreaming, the researchers attempted to get rid of the third variable problem by asking questions about TV related pleasant dreams and surprisingly found that about 60 percent of the youngest age group in the study reported having pleasant dreams related to TV viewing (Van den Bulck, 2004).
In addition to these findings, the researchers data showed that 50 percent of the oldest age group in the study reported never having pleasant dreams related to the TV content (Van den Bulck, 2004). Finally, the research shows that there was a small but significant relationship between preferences for certain types of TV content and both pleasant and unpleasant dreams; it appears that violent content in TV is not directly related to nightmares, and other media types induce nightmares as well (Van den Bulck, 2004). So, the Van den Bulck (2004) study seemed to rule out some of the problems of the previous study had with proving their hypotheses which is important for future research on this subject. Schredl et al. (2009) found that parents underestimate the frequency of their childrens nightmares and children who identify having emotional difficulties experience significantly higher sleeping problems including nightmares. Schredl et al. (2008) were unable to prove their hypothesis that the more media children are exposed to, the more nightmares they will experience.
And finally, the research of Van den Bulck (2004) exposed that media exposure correlates to both pleasant dreams and nightmares in children, most strongly at younger ages than older. In order to conclude this literature review, limitations of the studies discussed and directions for future research must be identified. The first article reviewed addressed some limitations which included the potential that the child might overestimate their nightmare frequency if they mistake nightmares for night terrors, which the parents may let them know they are having (Schredl et al., 2009). Another reason the child could overestimate nightmare frequency would be if they had recently experienced a very vivid haunting nightmare before completing the questionnaire which could make them feel a heightened sensitivity to negative dreaming life (Schredl et al., 2009).
For future research in order to expand on this study, it is recommended that researchers look deeper into parent and child ratings regarding occurrence of nightmares, as well as use more sophisticated measurements for child nightmare estimates as they could be easily subject to third variable problems and be biased or deficient (Schredl et al., 2009). The second article reviewed was not without its limitations as well. One of the most prominent limitations was the lack of strongly violent or disturbing television that was noted throughout the majority of the sample, the researchers felt as though not very many of the individuals has been exposed to very violent media (Schredl et al., 2008).
So, for future research, a study should include films and games that children would not regularly be exposed to, those which would be deemed violent and aggressive (Schredl et al., 2008). The next study should also be a longitudinal study that can score media use habits and the occurrence of nightmares using self-rate scales as well as parental information regarding their childrens sleeping habits (Schredl et al., 2008). This would also be important to take on personality measures to determine that affect on relationships between media use and nightmare occurrences (Schredl et al., 2008).
The final article noted that game and television related nightmares do not necessarily stem from violent and aggressive media, and it can actually derive itself out of any type of media, so future studies should not be limited to violent content (Van den Bulck, 2004). Another direction for future research would be to delve deeper into the study of childrens severity of nightmares, effect on sleeping habits, and variation in nightmares (Van den Bulck, 2004). This study represents data that media continues to occupy children
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