Saturday, August 9, 2008

Kids, Media Violence, and Parenting

Ever since the Bandura "Bobo doll" study in the 50's (where it was found that children imitate violence) people have complained about the media's supposed power to warp a child's mind beyond repair. The public seems to believe that if a child hears a rap song about gun violence that he will inevitably go shoot up his school. What can save our children from this horrible fate? It doesn't seem to matter. No matter what the government does to create "safer media," there's always going to be some concerned parent who is unsatisfied with it and demands some kind of change.

The following is some "mother of four" ranting about the supposed causation between media violence and violent behavior:

An entire genre of music, popularized and pushed into the mainstream by greedy corporations, has taught a generation of children that the road to success is paved with drugs, violence and sex.
Granted, her analysis of the mainstream media is spot on. Violence and sex are pushed forward all too often for easy marketability by corporations sometimes at the expense of decency. But there are a number of problems with this "jumping the gun" here.

First of all, even with all this violence and sex in the media, good kids are still being raised, who don't go around shooting up their schools or taking to a life of risky sex, drugs and violence. How can this be?? What is their secret? Could it be that these good children have parents who will take the time to engage their children on the existence of such violence and sex, and the inappropriateness of their endorsements...rather than just sit around complaining that these greedy corporations should be entrusted with their parental responsibilities?

In all seriousness, it is ultimately the parents' responsibility to teach children about violence and how to deal with violence, not the corporations, nor should it be the government's responsibility. These institutions should only provide measures to inform or assist parents to make decisions about the content (like television ratings), they should not have to be doing the parenting for them. Teach your kids about violence in the media, so that when they see it, they know how to deal with it. That's the parent's responsibility.

Secondly, even if this were some fascist government that could make parents' dreams come true and eliminate all violence and sex in the media, children would still be violent and they would still do risky behavior no less than they are already. The point being, aggression and risky behavior have multi-faceted causes, some internal (biological, genetic...relating to serotonin levels, hormone imbalances...etc.) that place some children at more risk than others, and some external (the child's context, parents, neighborhood, school, relationships...etc.). Regardless of these causes, almost all can be averted and the effects minimized by responsible parenting.

Thirdly, a good way to make something stick out in a child's head is to cause a "big unnecessary parental stir" over it. Sometimes it's as if parents think children are conscious enough to get misinformed about violence because some rap star is holding a gun in a music video, but not conscious enough to realize that it's got all the adults fuming. This happens all the time with sexuality, and perhaps might be responsible for driving some kids to pursue risky sexual behavior in the first place.

You have to educate kids about these things, not hide it from them. You have to engage them on these topics when they start talking about them, not cower in fear because you think they aren't old enough to "handle" the information. If they can't get the information from you, they'll turn to the media, their peers (who got their information from the media as well most likely). Once again, this is a basic parenting necessity.

So we shouldn't be asking: "How do these powerful impressions alter the values, goals and beliefs youth and children will formulate about the world, their neighborhoods, their communities and most importantly, themselves?"

Rather, we should be asking: how do
PARENTS create "powerful impressions to alter the values, goals and beliefs youth and children formulate about the world?"

Luckily, this parent relents the "blame game" for a moment long enough to get at what this all-important parental responsibility amounts to: "Parents need to be more involved in monitoring their children’s media consumption, establishing and sticking to household rules about media use, and discussing media content with their children."

Though it's not always necessary, far less possible to completely "monitor" a child's media consumption, (as parents really ought to be more involved than just relying on the V-chip to sift the media for them), what's more important is to make your children understand that violence does occur in the media, that it's put out there by those greedy corporations you complain about, that is not acceptable behavior and that these companies are lying if they make it seem like it is. THAT is what children need to hear more often. Educate and empower.

But just as she relents, she gets cooking the red meat again: "Advertisers need to be held accountable for the content their advertising dollars pay for." This is where the so-called necessity to protect-children-from-all-harm turns into outright fascism. In my opinion, television networks are too busy dumbing down content so as not to offend what they perceive as "the audience." Meaningful content is constantly being marginalized to make way for content that can't offend simply because it can't illuminate or inspire anyone--or it is forced to make way for content that is so utterly offensive that it fails to be meaningful content and therefore can't be taken seriously enough to be offensive.

To call on advertisers to "up the ante" on networks to get them to further strip and screen their content so as to always be "bright, fresh, clean, wholesome," is relegating our children to a land of mediocrity (ie. "political correctness") which neither incites nor teaches them anything. Stripping content also doesn't do a whole lot to prepare them for real-world violence and sexual activity in the future. Being a parent and discussing this content, why it exists, and what they can do about it with your children will...regardless of what's on.

So in reality, "Garbage in--Garbage out" is a good way of putting it. Be a "garbage parent" complaining the media should do the parenting for you, and you can expect to raise "garbage children." By the same logic, the reverse can and does produce the opposite.

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