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Violence and the media


Fri, Oct 24th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

There's much to be said about violence, not only in October - which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month - but all year long. When I was asked to write an article about violence and its affect on children, I thought that I would focus on violence in the media. Wow. Have you ever read research on the correlation between watching violent media or playing violent video games and aggression at school or home? The amount of research out there is staggering. And the level of violence in popular media is both hard to miss and easy to ignore. According to www.commonsensemedia.org, "studies have shown excessive exposure can result in:

• Increased anti-social behavior and aggression

• Violence desensitization and lower levels of empathy toward others

• Increased levels of fear due to perceiving the world as violent

• Acceptance of violence as a way of settling conflict

• Higher tolerance and threshold of violence leading to a desire to experience more violence in both video games and real life

While these facts have been known for some time, more violent media gets produced and marketed every day. Video games have taken center stage as an especially powerful and violent influence. Players actively engage in maiming, killing, and raping victims in an effort for a high score or to "win" the game."

We as adults in our community and parents in our home need to be active participants in the media life of our children. Dr. David Walsh wrote a book entitled, "No: Why Children Need to Hear it and Ways Parents Can Say It," and one of the things he said in the book that I'll never forget is that "whoever tells the story defines the culture." We used to listen to stories told by our grandparents or by Gilligan, but today we have Family Guy, Desperate Housewives and the Simpsons telling our children stories. We have children, ages 2-17, watching an average of almost 25 hours of television per week - that's about 3.5 hours per day. Almost 20% of students watch more than 44 hours of TV each week (www.mediawise.org; Gentile & Walsh, 2002).

I'm not anti-television, but I am pro-"active parenting." 44% of children and teens report watching different programs when their parents are not around (www.mediawise.org; Strasburger & Donnerstein, 1999). With the abundance of media choices we have, parents need to take an active role in making sure that the stuff "feeding the heads" of our children isn't damaging. Some of the websites I look to for information and guidance on media choices in our ever-changing world are the websites listed above: www.mediawise.org and www.commonsensemedia.org. They both review movies, television shows, video games and offer ideas for healthy media use. They both have newsletters that can be sent to your inbox offering a quick look at what's happening in the media world each week and what things to look for and avoid. www.mediawise.org offers some tips to foster healthy media use:

• To prevent impulse watching, use the TV guide before turning on the set.

• Videotape TV shows for your child, so they have a backup when there is nothing appropriate on the television for them to watch.

• Children need active play to promote their developmental, physical and social skills. (American Academy of Pediatrics)

• Keep television sets out of children's bedrooms.

• Two hours of quality television programming per day is the maximum recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There are more things we could add to this list, but it's a start to thinking about and talking about how violence in the media affects our kids. At Fillmore Central Schools last year we read and discussed Dr. Walsh's book, and I intend to use that book again for a book discussion. If you're interested in learning more about it, please contact me. We also might do some other books about topics that parents are interested in, so feel free to contact me if you're interested in participating in a conversation about parenting. Parenting isn't easy and getting the support of a community sure can help everyone!

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