Series of Yello Dyno Memos
The Recipe for Making Kids Into 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.
Part II: First Imitation, Then Identification:
As kids imitate the violence they see – in real life and on the screen – through imitative play, they are learning to identify themselves as perpetrators of violence from the very beginning of their lives.
PART III: The Violence Formula: Three negative effects from exposure to screen violence.
Part IV: Violent Video Games: From long-term exposure to violence in the media, children are easy bait for the conditioning effects of violent video games.
Pretending to be Freddie Krueger
"It was easy," a seven-year-old boy exclaimed, "I pretended I was Freddy Krueger. Then I wasn't scared!"
Part II: Pretending To Be Freddie Krueger:
First Imitation, Then Identification
"Here’s a scary scenario: A seven-year-old boy described a deliberate attempt to reduce his own fear by identifying with a character in A Nightmare on Elm Street. 'It was easy,' he said, 'I pretended I was Freddy Krueger. Then I wasn’t scared. Now that’s what I always do and I am never scared.' Since identifying with an aggressive hero can increase real-life aggression, this tactic for reducing fear is chilling indeed."
– Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano
Learning is carried out in two stages: imitation and identification. At the beginning, learning comes through imitation; with enough repetition, identification takes place. As kids imitate the violence they see on-screen through imitative play, they are learning to identify themselves as perpetrators of violence…from the very beginning of their lives!
The severity of that imprinting is dependent upon the degree of violence in the child’s home environment, the amount of screen violence taken in daily, and the beliefs that child holds about his or her self and the world.
Every night, from the input of violent imaging children go to bed, “programmed to defend and attack.” Do we wonder why so many children and adults, for that matter, have sleep disorders? (What do you watch before bed?) The next morning at school “programmed to defend and attack” is the automatic response to other children: attack, dominate and destroy. Teachers today claim that disciplining students takes away as much as half of their teaching time. Anyone thinking about “No Child Left Behind"?
Everything the young child experiences and learns is latent; ready for the right circumstances to trigger future behaviors. Serious violence is most likely to erupt at moments of severe stress – and it is precisely at such moments that adolescents and adults are most likely to revert to their earliest, most visceral remembrance of violence. Consider the power of such violent “imprinting” on a little boy who watches his dad beat his mom repeatedly. He is two, three, four, or five years old and he despises this behavior and he hates his father. But if he is not careful, twenty years later, when he is under stress and he has a wife and kids, what is he likely to do? He will do the same thing he saw his father do. Why? He, of all people, should understand how despicable this behavior is, and how much his children will hate him. How much he’ll hate himself. But he can’t help it – it was burned into his system at an early age and imprinted on how he deals with like situations.
Now consider that this little boy not only observes domestic violence, but is also physically abused himself. He distracts himself from the pain he experiences by watching television. Like 56% of children between twelve and seventeen in our country, he grows into later childhood and early adolescence by escaping to his bedroom and watching TV or DVDs. He likes watching violence. The violent imagery, in fact, reinforces and justifies the violence he is experiencing in the home. How much more likely is it that he will become a violent abuser himself?
- Television in the Home, The 1997 Survey of Parents and Children (This series of stats are well worth reviewing.)
An estimated four million American children are victimized each year by physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, community violence, and other traumatic events. When TV is added to this equation, more stress is added to the child’s life. Research has found that abused children watch more TV than other children do, prefer violent programs, and appear to admire violent heroes. Children who are both abused and watchers of a great deal of television are most likely to commit violent crimes later in life.
– Inside the Brain: Revolutionary Discoveries of How the Mind Works, Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing
The brains of violent people are different from the brains of non-violent people. Violent or aggressive people have decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, leading to troubled thinking and problems in the left temporal lobe, leading to a short fuse. How do adult brains come to have such problems? There are a number of reasons, but could saturation with violent, fast-paced screen images play a significant role?
– Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger and Impulsiveness, Daniel G. Amen, M.D., New York: Times Books
Children growing up as spectators, staring at two-dimensional images for four or more hours daily, do not get enough physical movement, tactile, 3-D experiences, problem-solving practice, or opportunities for language expression and skill-building that they would get with less time watching and more time doing. These real activities are absolutely vital. Without them, the cortex, including the vital prefrontal cortex, which acts as a dampening switch to impulsive behavior in healthy and mature adults, cannot develop appropriately.
In addition to displacing activities imperative to healthy brain development, a fixation with violent on-screen images can alter the brain’s alert system, causing more hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. Is this considered when a child is labeled with attention deficit disorder? Violent images keep the story plot or the video game moving fast and the excitement high. The lower brain, the seat of our survival instinct, stays ever on alert. When this part of the brain is preoccupied with danger, the cerebral cortex, or seat of rational thought, is hard-pressed to function optimally.
Screen violence can increase the reactivity of the brain stem. Children’s hearts race, their eyes bug out, their breathing comes in gasps as they munch on snacks and watch the body count soar…Television and movie violence over-stimulate our children and overstress their brains. The faster and the more salient the violent imagery, the more likely it is that our kids will be in states of emotional arousal. It is the fast action and the quick cuts of today’s programming that keep the young brain on alert, in a way very similar to the soldier who is on alert in the battlefield or an abused child who is on alert for the next slap.
Young children have an instinctive desire to imitate the behavior of others, but they do not possess an instinct for gauging whether a behavior ought to be imitated. They will imitate anything, including behaviors most adults would regard as destructive and antisocial. Since youngsters do not have the brain capacity yet for analysis, evaluation, or moral judgment, they are developmentally unable to discern the difference between fantasy and reality; if they did, we wouldn’t have too many kids believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Therefore, they are incapable of interpreting violent images, of making personal sense out of them.
– Television and Violence: Scale of the Problem and Where to Go From Here, The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 267
The inherent inability to distinguish fantasy from reality although developmentally appropriate means that, in the minds of young children, media violence is a course of entirely factual information regarding how the world works.
- Reasoning About Realities: Children’s Evaluation of Televisions and Books, H. Kelly and H. Gardner
When a young child sees somebody being shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized, degraded, or murdered on TV, to the child it is as though it is actually happening. Imagine children of three, four, or five watching “splatter” movies in which they spend sixty minutes learning to relate to a cast of characters and then in the last sixty minutes of the movie they watch helplessly as their new-found friends are hunted down and brutally murdered. This is the moral and psychological equivalent of introducing a child to a group of new friends, letting them play with those friends, and then butchering them in front of the child. And this happens to many children again and again throughout their early development.
The more often children watch violent television programs and movies, the more likely it is that they will develop and sustain highly aggressive heroic fantasies for years to come.
When children start off in an alarm state with high noradrenaline and impulsive behavior, they often revert to low noradrenaline levels and calculating behaviors. Brains in a constantly hyped state get worn out and sociopath behaviors can be the result.
– Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano
As the adult in children’s lives, WE CHOOSE what children are learning through imitation.
WE ALLOW repetition that reinforces the resultant identification that takes place. WE DECIDE for our children what television shows, movies and video games are O.K. CHOOSE to pass on this series of Yello Dyno Memos to your friends, colleagues and the parents of children you teach. Together we will make a difference.
Stay tuned for Part III.
Yours for child safety,
Yello Dyno Founder
P.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
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