Earlier this month forensic psychiatrists Vasilis K. Pozios, Praveen R. Kambam and H. Eric Bender in The New York Times raised the question that has become a perennial bromide: “Does Media Violence Lead to the Real Thing?”
This debate is analogous to the seed that lies dormant in the desert until the next rainfall. Claims of media cause and effect remain largely ignored until the next mass shooting by a troubled young person rekindles the debate.
It’s the perpetual struggle between proponents of so-called responsible media and those who argue for so-called artistic freedom. Advocates demanding reduced portrayal of violence by the media pitted against entertainment producers and writers who deny any link between fictional acts of depravity and real-life criminal acts.
Pozios, Kambam and Bender are just the latest researchers looking for the smoking gun that will prove a definitive causal linkage. But that evidence remains elusive.
Communication researchers Wilbur Schramm, Jack Lyle and Edwin B. Parker in their 1961 seminal study “Television in the lives of our children,” concluded “For some children, under some circumstances, some television is harmful. For other children under the same conditions, or for the same children under other circumstances, it may be beneficial. For most children under most circumstances, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial.”
A new generation of researchers has focused more recently on how to mitigate the impact of media violence on those children who are at risk. Barbara J. Wilson and Audrey J. Weiss have examined ways to reduce the impact of mass media on elementary and preschool children.
Jerome Singer and Dorothy Singer have evaluated the relationship between children’s television programs and young viewers.
Other scholars have proposed steps to counter possible aggressive tendencies arising from media exposure to cartoons, to develop media viewing strategies, and devise prescriptive steps for educators and health care experts.
Volumes have been published on media violence and other tomes will soon join them on the bookshelves of researchers, media watchdogs, teachers and counselors.
What is missing from this research, however, are studies of children who have been exposed to media violence yet have not engaged in criminal behavior. What distinguishes these young people from those who turn their fantasy killings into actual murders?
If scholars turn their attention to these questions, what will they learn? The answer is simple.
Children nurtured in loving environments are exposed to positive images, instilled with strong ethical and moral values, and develop healthy social skills. Such children are not vulnerable to the potential consequences of unhealthy media exposure.
Here are a few commonsense steps:
1–Parents must monitor and limit media exposure by young children. You decide what your children can and cannot see, hear or play.
2–Parents must talk to their young children prior to, during and after watching specific television programs, movies and videogames.
3–Parents must be the bosses even when children protest. You don’t rear children to be your friends. You rear them to be healthy, responsible, productive adults.
4–Parents must stay in their children’s faces even if the kids don’t like it. You are responsible for their health and welfare.
5–Parents must choose and expose children to a variety of extracurricular activities that gets everyone away from prolonged media exposure.
6–Parents must find a good balance between their children’s right to privacy and the parent’s right to know.
7–Parents need to be involved in their children’s education both at home and in school.
When Schramm, Lyle and Parker wrote more than 50 years ago about the “circumstances” that affect the impact of television on children, they were describing the impact of involved parents, strong families, and concerned educators and counselors.
Media censorship is not the answer; good parenting is.