Media Violence Packs a Punch

For those of us on the other side of the debate, significant support for our position arrived recently in the form of a joint statement by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry stating that “viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behaviors, particularly in children.”

Afterward, in a Congressional Forum, a voice of recognized authority finally announced what many of us have long known — that if we pump our kids’ heads full of violence and rage (or foul language and promiscuous sex), they’re going to act out.

Unlike the Hollywood apologists, Most Americans understand why advertisers routinely pay millions of dollars for a few seconds of the public’s attention — because it affects our behavior. Tell us we need a certain nasal spray enough times, and eventually we’re going to go out and buy some.

This is how we respond to thirty second spots. Imagine how three straight hours of depraved violence or an entire CD of misogynistic rantings are going to make a frustrated, pimple-faced teenager feel. I remember as a kid wanting to put the gloves on after every episode of Batman. Why would a kid feel any differently today after cyber-killing 15 of his buddies playing the video game Quake III?

More and more, the die-hards of Tinseltown are sounding like tobacco executives who persist in claiming that smoking isn’t harmful to your health. But the message from last fall's Congressional Public Health Summit regarding violence is clear.

“Its effects are measurable and long-lasting,” the four health groups said in their statement. “Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.”

Not surprisingly, neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor the National Association of Broadcasters commented forthrightly on the medical associations’ statement. All they and the International Recording Media Association seem to care about are copyright and piracy issues. They just want to ensure that they keep getting paid for the “entertainment” they’re beaming nonstop into our homes.

The Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children, based on over 30 years of research, left Big Media little or no wiggle room. Consider these excerpts:

• “Viewing violence may lead to real-life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed.”

• “Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts. [They] are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.”

• “Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place. Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and mistrust of others.”

Mark Honig, executive director of the Parents Television Council (PTC), a family-oriented media advocacy group based in Los Angeles, believes the statement confirms what his organization and these medical groups have been saying independently for years. “There is clearly a causal effect between violence in the media and violence in society,” Honig said. “The only people still denying it are some in the entertainment community itself.”

Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment (video games and other interactive media) on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies or music.

All this is not meant to suggest that today’s entertainment choices are all bad or that music or TV themselves are the sole or necessarily even the most important factors contributing to the social situation we find ourselves in today. Peer influences, the disintegration of the traditional family, and the receding influence of religion are just a few of the other factors contributing to the problems of youth violence and aggression in our society.

But there are some steps we can take to limit the negative effects of irresponsible media. They include:

• Not allowing your children to see shows or purchase music or games known to be violent or gratuitously sexual.

• Voicing to your children your disapproval of programs, including cartoons, that deal with dark, evil themes.

• Emphasizing the belief that violence is not an acceptable way to solve problems.

• Opening a dialogue with the parents of your children’s friends and agreeing to enforce similar views on media exposure.

• Contacting TV stations and advertisers and expressing concern about inappropriate material marketed to children.

We as parents must take responsibility to form our children's moral conscience. We must endeavor to protect their innocence for as long as they are in our care. Besides controlling the channel-changer and making greater use of the “mute” button, we need to sit and watch TV with them and explain that there are consequences to the behaviors they are viewing, even though they may not be seeing it in the program itself. We need to monitor what our kids see and read and listen to in the same way we monitor their hygiene and diet and sleep. In a word, we need to be vigilant.

(For more Arts & Entertainment articles click here.)

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