Marketing violence to children

My turn

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2001

Many thought the tragic shootings at Bethel, Paducah, Jonesboro and Columbine would be a wake-up call to Americans. More school shootings were added to the list last month.

A March 5 article in the Anchorage Daily News reported that suspensions because of fights, threats and assaults at the high schools have increased 34 percent in the last quarter. One of the fights was videotaped and set to music. When asked what's causing the violence, Superintendent Carol Comeau said that the World Wrestling Federation, the new XFL, and violent video games are partly to blame.

While the causes of violence are complex, violence in the media is one of the factors contributing to a culture of violence. The media diet that feeds our youth is very violent. Graphic violence in movies, TV, CD music, and video games has become the norm for many of our youth. Killing is made to seem fun, just a game, just entertainment.

The medical community has recognized this "poison" and its harmful effects. The joint statement from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, based on more than 1,000 studies spanning 30 years of research on media violence, found that the real-life impact of "virtual" violence, including video games, takes the following forms:

Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts,

Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization in real life,

Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place,

Viewing violence may lead to real-life violence. ?

To be good at anything takes practice. A good musician practices an instrument over and over. Sports stars engage in extensive practice and conditioning. Likewise, violent video games encourage role-playing and conditioning in the act of killing.

The life-like violence in video games has crept up on us little by little, and hardly anyone noticed. The first games of Pong and Pac Mac seemed harmless enough, so we didn't give them much thought. However, as the technology expanded, so did the level of violence. New games have become more realistic than the ones before, and killing games have become big money makers.

In addition to violent video games, our awareness needs to include gratuitous violence in TV, movies, and music.

TV violence, like the World Wrestling Federation, XFL and slasher movies, is sending harmful messages that violence is the preferred way to solve conflicts and is entertaining.

The movie theaters already have a policy not to admit minors to "R" rated films. Perhaps they need some public input to enforce their own policies.

Violent music lyrics can be highly influential to a young mind. Why do stores still carry violent music? Why are minors still able to buy violent CD's? Why are preteens and teens so absorbed in the lyrics? Why are parents still unaware?

Just as we know eating healthy foods creates healthy bodies, a healthy media diet will help create healthy minds and attitudes. The media itself is not the problem, however the use of the media can be. We need to be aware of two primary factors: The amount of media youth are exposed to and the content of the media.

Everyone can help:

Physician and nurses can help educate parents..

Merchants can refuse to sell items with strong violence or sexual content to minors. Everyone can encourage managers and owners. Stores are market driven.

Parents can limit and guide the media choices their children are exposed to.

Schools can teach media literacy and healthy media choices.

Disciplinary actions from judges for violent youth offenders can include restrictions on violent media as a part of the consequences.

TV and radio stations, as well as newspapers and magazines can educate the public on the harmful effects on minors from viewing violent and strong sexual images.

Churches and faith communities can bring this issue to the attention of their congregations and provide spiritual guidance.

Everyone can vote every day with our time and money for what kind of community we want.

Together we can make a positive difference.

Diann Darnall of Fairbanks teaches violence prevention and media literacy workshops through Possibilities!. She can be reached at 479-5421.

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