After the shootings in Littleton, Colorado and other incidents, the subject of the role that violence in the media plays in the aggressive behavior of youth has become an explosive issue. Many people seem to believe that the main cause behind these horrific acts was watching certain television shows, playing certain video games, or listening to certain types of music, but that is simply not the case. What the public fails to recognize, or admit, is that a large part of the blame should fall on them and not the media. Millions of people come into contact with violence in the media and a very minuscule percentage of them actually go out and commit crimes. In light of this, there must be some other factors that result in children acting in such convoluted ways, the major ones being familial relationships and the environments in which they live.
Following the situation in Columbine, there was an overflow of people, experts and laymen, who thought that they knew what was to blame for the shootings. Some of these responses were: parents, copycats, the media, the internet, guns and gun control, loss of family values, the lack of counselors in schools, and the improper storage of firearms. Just looking at this list shows that no one factor can be blamed, “various influences come together, either to twist a mind, or to give an evil direction to a mind that is already twisted.” Instead of trying to assess what the media is doing to our children, we should look at what kids are doing with what they come across in the media and why. Many observers have said playing violent video games doesn’t cause copycat behavior, but troubled kids sometimes use them to act on their aggressions. Clinical psychologist Stanton Samenow says that the problem is not what they see but what they do with what they see.
Given this, even though the media may play some role in children’s violence, it is in the capacity of providing an idea not an impetus, and thus only a small part of the problem. There are many other factors that have a much greater impact on kids, such as their parents’ behavior and the environment that they live in. There has to be something that has already twisted a mind so that it would be conducive to getting the idea from a television show or a video game that going out and shooting people is suitable behavior and okay. For example, there was a story in the news some time ago of a young girl who was shot at school by a fellow student and the media is not even mentioned as a potential cause of the incident. The boy in question had been living in a home where crack was exchanged for guns and had taken a gun that was lying around to school with the intention of hurting someone. Then, later in the day, when he got angry with a girl that talked back to him, he shot and killed her.
In this situation, the fault was clearly with the parents and not the media, but I think that the facts of this case have some relevance to other incidents as well. One cannot ignore the fact that without access to the weapons that these children have used, they would not have been able to do any lasting damage. Also, it is the parents’ responsibility to keep an eye on their children, to see what activities they are involved in and what they are up to. Having tougher laws on gun control and the availability of weapons to minors would also help considerably.
Another behavior that the media has been blamed for is the actions young children may take while watching cartoon characters doing crazy and impossible things, though the blame for this also rests mostly on the shoulders of the parents. It should be obvious that little kids may internalize the things they see on television and view the occurrences as real and possible. “Young children do not process information in the same way as adults. Nor do they have the experience or judgment to evaluate what they see…children between the ages of six and ten may believe that most of what they see on TV is true to life.” The media has realized this and many cartoons often coin the phrase, “Kids, don’t try this at home,” but it is primarily the parents who should be teaching their children the difference between illusion and reality and make them understand that much of what they see on television is not real.
There are many reasons for the violent actions of children but most of them result from their environment rather than what they are exposed to in the outside world. The media cannot be blamed for all the faults of parents in raising their children in an environment and with the values that allow them to believe that the use of weapons is acceptable and allows easy access to them. The media can also not be blamed for the fact that young children or even older ones may act on what they see, believing it to be real and all right as that is something wrong with the child. It is the responsibility of the family and society to teach their youth good values and provide them with a place where they can discuss their problems instead of blindly acting on them.
(Manasi Singhal is a freshman at Dartmouth College. )
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