Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tough Love: Taking a Stand Against Media Violence

I overheard a group of moms a few weeks ago talking about the video games that their sons want for Christmas. One mom couldn’t decide whether or not to buy a certain video game for her 10 year-old. She thought it was too violent, but her son wanted it oh-so-badly. And his friends already had the game, so he felt he was missing out on the action.

Another mother sympathized and said that she allows violent games in her home, leaving her kids with the reminder to “make good choices."

“That’s about all you can do,” she said.

Is that true? Are the only things parents can do when faced with such a dilemma is acquiesce in spite of our gut feelings, purchase the game, and cross our fingers?

I don’t have sons and my girls aren’t (at this stage in their lives) aren’t interested in many video games. So perhaps I can’t fully understand the struggle that these mothers feel. But I’d like to think that I wouldn’t allow violent games in my home. My neighbor, mother of two sons (ages 11 and 15) doesn’t allow video games in hers, and her sons seem to be just fine, happy and well-adjusted. It works for them.

The American Psychological Association says that exposing children to violence (through all kinds of media) can have an impact:
A typical child in the U.S. watches 28 hours of TV weekly, seeing as many as 8,000 murders by the time he or she finishes elementary school at age 11, and worse, the killers are depicted as getting away with the murders 75% of the time while showing no remorse or accountability. Such TV violence socialization may make children immune to brutality and aggression, while others become fearful of living in such a dangerous society.
The recent school shooting in Connecticut has renewed the debate over what causes lead to real violence, and of course the answer is not simple. But we might thoughtfully consider violent media as a factor. I’m not saying that watching a violent movie will directly cause a person to commit an act of violence. But it may be true that exposure to violent media can inspire a person’s actions, and can take away the gravity of a violent act, dehumanizing the victim and the victim’s families and friends.

I once watched a documentary about a serial killer that mimicked the serial murders he watched in a TV series. The real killer, before he was identified, found companionship with other fans of the show through online communities. The series, of course, didn’t make the killer commit the crimes. But I’m wondering how much the deranged person was inspired by the show. Did it make the act of murder seem a little closer to “normal?” Plausible? Did his online connections with fans of the show make him feel less like an outsider, and help justify his thoughts and actions?

This is an extreme example, but it came to mind because I believe that overexposure to violent media can “water down” the gravity of real crimes. We can become desensitized to it. Common Sense Media says:
[Violence is] in every TV show, movie, music video, and video game. Reality shows normalize outrageous behavior and violence among peer groups. And, yes, our kids can become numb to violence. The more they see, the more "normal" it appears. What kids see on the screen impacts how they view the world.
We as parents need to be mindful of our children’s developmental stages, emotional needs, and capabilities to digest violent media. We need to remember that what children see and hear at an early age can create an impression, and can be mixed in with other experiences to create adults that have a moral compass that can point us in the right – or wrong – direction.

Parents can talk to their kids about media violence, and help them critically assess what they see and feel. Model empathy for other people in everyday actions. And help kids learn coping strategies for when they feel angry, hurt or depressed.

There are other things we can do, too. Dr. Keith Ablow, in his article for advocates for parents to not allow violent games and movies in the home. He says:
I think we as parents have to be loving and be bold—which so often, for parents, amounts to the same thing. We have to be willing to say “no” and mean it to content we worry over. That should be enough to trigger action—the worry.

As I said, the scientific data isn’t really there yet to back up the concern. So we should do with such content what we would do if we had turned a blind eye toward alcohol being consumed by our kids—find it in the house and throw it in the garbage, and then explain it won’t be back in the house, period.

Let your kids know that you won’t even exchange the used games for credit at a store because you wouldn’t poison another family’s kids. And, you won’t peddle the junk on eBay because you’re not a drug pusher.

The same goes for movies that seem to offer little upside in the way of life lessons and mostly just play on the human fascination with bloodshed: You tell your kids those movies aren’t on the play list anymore, either in the cinema, in the house or on their computers, because there is a concern they could be “bad for them.”
Tough words for some. Dr. Ablow also says parents can lessen the draw of games and TV by encouraging their kids to get outside more. My thoughts circle back to my neighbor, whom I admire for the stand that she’s taken against video games. Her boys can be seen biking, skateboarding, and playing football in the neighborhood after school.

It might be hard to a stand against violent media in the home. But it can be done with success. Good parenting often requires tough love.

More information and tips: TV Violence: What to Do When TV Is Too Scary by Common Sense Media

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