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Youth violence: “Monkey see, monkey do?”

December 17, 2010

A recent statistic crossed my desk that made me pause.  What was even more telling than the data itself was how I came across it — my eldest daughter shared it with me.

Did you know that the average American child sees about 200,000 acts of violence on TV by the time they reach age 18?

Say, WHAT?????

Two HUNDRED THOUSAND acts of violence. On TV alone.  Never mind video games, movies in theaters, and sadly, for many children, “real life.” That comes to more than 11,000 “views” each year, or roughly 31 each and every DAY.

Is it any wonder that our kids are becoming desensitized to violence and anti-social behavior?

I know there have been studies linking video games to increases in violent behavior in our youth, but I don’t think I’ve seen one based on TV violence.  And, what about anti-social behavior, in general?  Most bullying, for example, doesn’t fall into the category of “youth violence” but we certainly know that there’s been an increase in that sort of behavior in the past 20-40 years.  I’d like to see what the increases in student anti-social behavior is mapped against the increase of “negative imaging” (let me call it that) on TV.

Maybe one of you readers has a source to point me to? 

Certainly we know that what we are exposed to repeatedly tends to become a new norm of sorts. As a personal example, the first time I watched “ER” on TV, my heart was racing, I was close to horrified at how real and intense it all was. I swore I would never be able to see it again. But, I did…and over time, I not only became comfortable with the images and storylines, I became a fan.

Imagine what impact TV violence has on our children, who are little sponges, literally soaking up what they see and hear — for good or for bad. Young children who see violence and anti-social behavior repeatedly will certainly come to see this type of conduct as “normal,” if not acceptable, even.  Our young children don’t even possess the ability, early on, to differentiate between real life and fantasy so it becomes an even bigger deal for them when they are exposed to violence on TV.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude or idealist that says we can completely isolate our kids from what’s going on in the real world. But I do think we have a choice when it comes to what they are exposed to as an “optional” activity. I’ve written previously about the problems with many types of programming on cable or regular TV, so I think that strictly limiting “programmed” TV may be reasonable if the networks and studios don’t change the shows they create and promote.

Ultimately, it’s up to every parent or caregiver to do what’s right for their kids and their family. But I think the statistics show a worrisome trend that we need to consider when we are concerned about the rise of anti-social and violent behavior in our kids.  We know our kids learn best from modeling — we really need to think about what it is they are seeing modeled 200,000 times in their formative years.

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