Many of the twenty million children in the U.S.A. are experiencing a form of abuse by the constant bombardment of violent visual messages throughout their childhood and adolescence. Of those 20 million, over five million children experience some form of traumatic event each year. More than two million of these children are victims of physical and/or sexual abuse. Millions more live in the terrorizing atmosphere of domestic violence.
- Surviving Childhood: Lesson 1, Child Trauma Academy
The effect of media violence and violent video games reinforce that the world is a dangerous place for children who are experiencing abuse, trauma or domestic violence in their real world. They are even more vulnerable to the influence. When this recipe is followed rigorously by children, many are primed to become killers.
Part I: Long-Term Exposure to Violence in the Media: Children are constantly learning that harming is fun, “natural,” and the “right” thing to do.
Now, on to a scene you might see on a Saturday morning anywhere in America. Mom’s in the kitchen. The aroma of coffee drifts through the living room, merging with a congratulatory voice, “Humanoid destroyed!” followed by shrieks of laughter of young children sprawled out in front of the TV. Sounds wonderful? Safe? What if I told you these three children are being dropped into the equivalent of a war zone?
Dr. Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has stated that exposing children to violent media image is 'abuse' similar in effect to physical or sexual abuse or living in a war zone. "None of us," says Dr. Poussaint, "would willingly put a child into those situations, yet we do not act to keep them from watching movies about things we would be horrified to have them see off the screen." Why is this so? Why, as a society, do we not see the link between violence on-screen and violence off-screen?
Constant exposure to screen violence can profoundly affect both children and adults in two important ways: we can come to need a daily dose of violent media, and we can build an immunity to violent imagery, becoming incapable of producing socially acceptable emotional responses. As our kids desire increased levels of violence and become more and more desensitized, they are constantly learning that harming is fun, “natural,” and the “right” thing to do.
"To make humans continue doing something naturally repulsive, you make it fun for them. This is called classical conditioning. The Japanese army very effectively used classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in WWII, Chinese prisoners were placed on their knees in a ditch with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, young, unbloodied Japanese soldiers had to go into the ditch and bayonet 'their’ prisoners to death. This is a brutal, horrific way to have to kill another human being. Up on the banks, their friends would cheer them on in their initiation to violence. Afterward, they were treated to the best meal they’d had in months, sake, and 'comfort girls.' The result? They were not just desensitized to violence; they were taught to enjoy violence, to associate human death and suffering with pleasure." – Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, “We are training our kids to kill,” Saturday Evening Post, August 1999
Every day children of all ages and in all stages of brain and ego development watch vivid pictures of human suffering and death for fun, and come to associate horror with their favorite soft drink, candy, girlfriend’s perfume or birthday party celebrations. Once the brain solidifies the link between pleasure and violence, it is difficult to convince it that it isn’t normal to do so. Endorphins remember. The thrill of seeing violence becomes “cool,” the rush repeatable. Columbine was horrifying. What about all the youths who imitated (and reportedly wanted to, but were stopped) the violence after Columbine? How horrifying is that?
When we talk of advertising on television, is there anyone who thinks thirty-second television commercials don’t change adult behavior? So, why do so many adults act as if children’s behavior won’t be changed by what they see on television? Is there an educator who doubts that the environment teaches? What surrounds the child also teaches the child. Try these stats on for size:
• A preschooler who watches about two hours of cartoon a day is exposed to nearly ten thousand violent episodes each year. At least five hundred of them feature a potent set of contextual features, making them a high risk for teaching aggressive attitudes and behaviors. - Federman, Joel, National Television Violence Study, Vol. 3, Executive Summary. Santa Barbara: University of California, 1998
• Nearly 40 percent of all the violent incidents on television are initiated by characters who possess qualities that make them attractive role models to kids. More than half of these incidents feature physical aggression that would be lethal or incapacitating if it were to occur in real life.
Federman, Joel, National Television Violence Study, Vol. 3, Executive Summary. Santa Barbara: University of California, 1998
• By age eighteen, a typical American child will have seen at least 200,000 dramatized acts of violence and forty thousand murders. - President Clinton, in his national address on media violence following the Littleton Massacre
We are no longer shocked when we hear that kids are indifferent to the results of the violent crimes they commit. “In Florida, for instance, a six-year-old boy and his friend got into a fight in his apartment. Finally, to end the matter, the boy maneuvered his friend out onto the balcony and pushed him over the railing, sending him to his death ten floors below. Twenty minutes later, the police came upstairs to ask some questions. The boy was watching cartoons on television. During the questioning, the boy continued to watch cartoons and eat pizza. He was perfectly calm.”
– The TV Message is Mayhem, Encyclopedia Britannica: 1995 Medical and Health Annual. Chicago: Encyclopedia, 1995, 94-95
Media violence is priming our children to see killing as acceptable. Media violence can also be a powerful influence for good. Scientific evidence has established that screen portrayals of violence need not lead to reinforcement of aggressive attitudes and behaviors if:
1. the consequences of violence are demonstrated;
2. the violence is shown to be regretted or punished;
the perpetrators are not glamorized;
the act of violence is not seen as justifiable;
in general, violence is shown in a negative light as causing human suffering and pain, then the portrayal of violence is less likely to create imitation effects.
But, if the violence is glamorized, sanitized, and made to seem routine or even fun to do, then the message is that it is acceptable. And our children imitate it. Sensational visual images showing hurting as powerful and domination of others as permissible are dangerous." – Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano
There are certainly plenty of real-life traumatic events bombarding our children. Loving and nurturing environments do much to help our children come through their younger years unscathed, well-adjusted and non-violent, but what about all the children who don't have that environment? Helping to prevent victimization or helping children step out of danger with programs such as Yello Dyno are key ingredients for creating a healthy adult. Stay tuned for Part II.
Yours for child safety,
Yello Dyno Founder
P.S. Compare these movies:
1939: Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind
1999: Natural Born Killers and The Matrix
2007: Shooter, Live Free or Die Hard (fourth in series), The Bourne Ultimatum (third in series)
P.S.S. I will provide updates about this topic in my Yello Dyno blog, Around Jan's Kitchen Table, and I encourage all of you to continue sharing information and commentary on this and other important topics about the safety of our children. Bookmark Yello Dyno's web page SEX OFFENDERS - we will keep it up to date with articles, laws and links on this topic.
Educators, Non-profits, Churches and Law Enforcement: to have a Yello Dyno Curriculum sent to you for a thirty-day review, fill out this online form, or call me at 888-935-5639 ext. 100 or email me at Jan@YelloDyno.com
Comments? Ideas for future memos? Contact me: Jan@YelloDyno.com.
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