| November 29,
Advance for Dec. 2, 2006
Parents! Media Harms Kids
By Michael J. McManus
Why are rising percentages of children physically violent and bullies?
More than 1,000 studies - including a Surgeon General's special report and a
National Institute of Mental Health study - give evidence that media violence
sparks aggressive behavior in some children. Studies show that the more "real
life" the violence portrayed, the greater is the likelihood it will be
"learned," said the American Academy of Pediatrics.
By age 18, an American youth will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000
acts of violence. Of course, most kids are not murderers simply because they
have seen so many killings. But the heaviest watchers of violent TV are twice
as likely as those with minimal exposure to exhibit aggressive behavior toward
One reason kids see so much violent TV is that 54 percent of children have a TV
in their bedrooms. I can't think of a more foolish decision by a parent.
When our kids were young in the 1970s and 1980s, my wife and I had one TV in the
living room, which was largely off except for news and special shows like
Disney. Instead, each of our three boys spent their time learning a musical
instrument and played many sports. Today they are successful in quite different
What about programming that is specifically created for young children?
The Parents Television Council (ParentsTV.org) looked at 443 hours targeted at
children aged 5-10 on CBS, NBC, ABC, WB plus basic cable networks: ABC Family,
Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Even excluding "cartoony"
violence such as Wile E. Coyote, there were 2,794 instances of violence, or 6.3
violent incidents per hour, reports Kristen Fyfe.
Researchers also found that children-oriented programming included 858 incidents
of verbal aggression (abusive yelling, mean-spirited insults or put-downs), 250
excretory epithets or near obscenities, 595 disrespectful acts and 275 incidents
with sexual content!
Not surprisingly, what kids see influences what they do.
Even the kids acknowledge the impact. Nearly half say they select more violent
material to watch alone than if watching with parents. Two-thirds of young
people admit that shows like "The Simpsons" and "Married with Children"
encourage kids to disrespect parents.
However, today's world has new technologies to engage children, such as video
In a "Video Game Report Card" released this week, the National Institute on
Media and the Family estimated that children ages 8-18 spend more time (44.5
hours per week) in front of computer, television and game screens than they
spend on any other activity in their lives except sleeping.
This passive activity is a major reason that rising percentages of kids are
"Children who spend more time playing video games are heavier, and are more
likely to be classified as overweight or obese," the Institute stated. It also
reports "the amount of time kids spend playing video games is correlated with
poorer grades in school and attention problems."
Another alarming result is that many are becoming addicted to video games, with
such symptoms as "obsessive behavior, deceitful behavior, neglecting people and
responsibilities and increased isolation." Some not only are expelled from
school but also "alienate themselves from everyone in their lives, and in
extreme cases to commit suicide."
So should parents forget about giving video games to kids? Not necessarily. The
Institute' Report Card rate the games according to their danger. New sports
games are healthy, as are LEGO Star Wars II - The Original Trilogy, Roboblitz
and other E-rated games.
Previous Report Cards have influenced major retailers such as Best Buy, Target
and Wal-Mart to stop selling M-rated games to kids, according to "sting"
operations in which 14 kids aged 10-16 tried to buy them, but stores
specializing in video games sold them a third of the time.
Dr. David Walsh, creator of the Report Cards, urges parents "to pay more
attention to the games our kids are playing and how much time they are spending
playing games. Watch what your kids watch, play what your kids play."
Three-fourths of parents surveyed say they "always" help decide what games their
children buy or rent, but only 30 percent of children agree. Parents are also
twice as likely as kids to say there are rules about how much time can be spent
on video games.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of
screen time per day, including time spent on video games, TV, videos/DVDs and
Parents clearly need to learn to say "No."
However, they can say "Yes" to an E-game, or better, taking music lessons or
joining a soccer league.
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