The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

December 13, 2013

Does media violence trigger aggression in youth?

Point Blank column

Movies, TV, video games, and music: Teens get their favorite entertainment mainly from these four media. But many of the top shows, songs and games are extremely violent.

In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that before the age of 18, a person will have witnessed more than 200,000 acts of mayhem on TV and in the movies, including an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 murders.

The AMA also says that witnessing so much violence desensitizes, or numbs, viewers. Instead of feeling sad when someone is killed on TV, viewers may feel nothing. They may even grow to see violence as an everyday, normal occurrence.

Therefore, are the media sending the wrong messages?

Is this viewing consistent with American values? If not, then maybe parents need to tell children what the media portray and what they think about it. In other words, if certain programs are offensive, then say so, and explain why.

To be “media literate” it’s necessary to think about what you and your family are watching and reading. Adults can always turn off the TV or the computer, and place certain movies off limits.

Many believe there’s a link between media violence and real violence. Some recent high-profile school shooters have been fans of violent media, especially violent X-Box games and the like.

Others, though, maintain the real reasons teens become violent have little to do with entertainment. Many teens, they say, are bullied at school, neglected by parents or have deep psychological problems.

What is more, some media promoters hold that it’s not fair to blame violent media for violent teens. Can it be proved that violence in the media makes teens prone to commit acts of aggression in real life?

Those that say “yes” seem to hold the view that just as reading an inspiring book can help you to be a good person, being entertained by violence can make you violent, instead of teaching you how to solve problems peacefully.

Those who say “no” see things differently: Violence in the media is entertainment-and that’s it. Teens know that the people getting “killed” are actors. They also know that video games are just games.

And a current national attitude is that the vast majority of teens don’t take the media violence as a serious example to follow in real life. Kids who imitate the violence they see in the media are said to have major problems that are all their own.

Still, the repeated viewing of carnage and annihilation could cause some audiences to become desensitized to violence, according to psychologists, who maintain that continually blowing people up and slaughtering innocents in electronic games is a prelude to becoming violent in real life.

One student told me recently, “When I play a particular game for a few hours and I’m getting my butt kicked by some demonic character, I feel like smashing the control panel out of sheer frustration.”

He continued, “Click the remote control in your room and what do you get? I’ll tell you: an electronic training vehicle for future criminals, a primer for murder and bloodshed.”

Meanwhile, American audiences are eating it up. Most of our news is violent: a terrorist tossing a grenade into a Sunday service or a bus bombing that kills innocent people or a bride who pushes her husband off a cliff. Viewers are led to some level of acceptance.

If a villain is wasted at the end of a movie, the audience is glad. If the arch-criminal catches a bomb and is destroyed, viewers break out with applause. But people don’t see the other side of the killings, the part about the victims being real human beings. Perhaps that is what makes the violence easier to stomach.

And when sons, fathers and husbands are slaughtered in violent reprisals, the audience doesn’t witness the grief of the children, wives and mothers who are left behind, and that’s not a true picture of reality.

So what is the bottom line? Maybe it’s time parents took back their turf and started to show their authority. After all, even if they cannot fully control what their children see and hear, they at least can make their views known and manage their own home environment. That seems real enough.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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