Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Youth Violence and the Media


We in America are facing increasing violence year after year particularly in our youth. One startling statistic was the amount of handgun deaths in America in 1992. It totaled over 13,000.  That compares to about 100 deaths in most other modern countries of the world over that same time period. Why are we so lopsided in our handgun violence and our other forms of violence, particularly in our inner cities? One cause may be the amount of media violence exposure our kids grow up with. 

After thousands of studies commissioned by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Surgeon General of the United States and the National Institute of Mental Health, the general agreement is that heavy exposure to television violence does have a significant link to aggressive and violent behavior in our youth. The thought is that it desensitizes our youth to the pain and suffering of others.  For many of our kids, they become fearful of their environment, particularly in inner cities. For some children it pushes them over the edge to become more aggressive and hurtful toward others.  

The strongest link to youth violence and media exposure is in children under age ten. These kids frequently have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. They see glamorized violence night after night on TV and don't see the pain and suffering which occurs after people are shot up. They also don't see the sadness and suffering which occurs to both the victim of the violence and the victim's family over time. Perhaps we need a more honest
portrayal of the true life hospitalizations and long term medical care that occurs after a typical gunshot wound rather than the glamorous ending of so many violent shows on our TV nightly as well as VCR movies and video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics
has encouraged a more balanced TV diet made available to our youth particularly with more educational programs, more honesty in the media, and a lot less glamorization of violence. 

It is estimated that the average child in America will view about 200,000 acts of violence on TV by age eighteen. In addition to that there are thousands of other exposure opportunities through video games, movies and violent music. Some of the violent music is not only immoral and violent to society in general but specifically demeaning to women and law enforcement officers. Is
this the message we want our youth hearing repeatedly, day after day, night after night? I think common sense would tell us that as parents we must limit our children's overexposure to violence in all of these ways. We should watch TV with our kids so we know exactly what they are seeing. We might discuss the messages
portrayed and use it as a teaching opportunity. 

I am convinced that many of our youth are being hurt daily by their heavy diet of video and TV violence and I encourage all parents to control these potentially very damaging influences in their home.  Limit what your kids see and do outside the home, particularly while they are young. We can, as a society make a difference in
violence if we are willing to face these problems head on and work together.