I'm departing here from my usual focus on emotional health, relationships and couples therapy to recommend a book that addresses an urgent issue. Lt Col. Dave Grossman is an internationally recognized expert in understanding the roots of violence and violent crime. Gloria DeGaetano is a pioneering media-literacy educator. The book they have written together, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, gathers and presents in highly readable form a summation of the research on the impacts of what you and your kids see when you spend your downtime watching violence on TV, in movies and in video games. If you have children, or if you care about the rising tide of violence in our society, this book is a must read. It's shocking.
The following quotes from the book offer a glimpse into the vital realities that this book clarifies.
"It's abnormal for a civilized society to teach kids to kill people.....We have deterred many violent crimes by putting thousands of armed police officers in our schools. But it seems we have forgotten that it is not normal to put cops in our schools to stop our kids from killing each other. And it's not normal for every kid in America to practice hunkering down, hiding under tables when their classmates come to kill them. " (p. 3)
"With relevant information, practical solutions, and the will to succeed, we can stop teaching our kids to kill and to want to kill. We offer you the information and solutions...As for the will, well, that's up to you." (p. 4)
"You may be thinking, "It's about guns, not video games," right? When we consider the intense brutality of these rampages [Harris and Klebold at Columbine HS in Colorado, Adam Lanza in a Newtown CT elementary school and hundreds more] and cold-blooded murders we have to think carefully about what has changed to cause this. If we only blame increased access to guns we're missing the point, since the availablity of guns has been more or less a constant factor in the violence euqation in the United States. ...The question we should be asking is why kids want to pick up weapons with the intent to kill in the first place. (p. 14)
A seminal 2013 study that appeared in the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice presented violent video game exposure as a significant contributor to delinquency, even to psychopathic disorders.... And in February 2013 the National Science Foundation issued a comprehensive report on youth violence, acknowledging media violence as one of the top three risk factors for violent behavior, right up there with access to guns and mental health." (p. 15-16)
"The debate should be over by now. And for many of us, it is. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports media violence as a significant factor contributing to increased aggression...." (p. 37)
"In thousands of scientific studies over the last six decades, researchers have documented four basic negative effects from exposure to screen violence: increased aggression, increased fear, desensitization to real-life and screen violence, and increased appetite for more violence, on and off screen". (p. 54)
"The earlier a child is exposed to any type of media violence, the more likely it is that the increase in aggressive behavior will show in adulthood." (p. 55)
"Video game technology continually improves with technological advances, making murder and mayhem increasingly graphic, accessible, and alluring. Realism, the holy grail of the video game industry, enables participation in extremely lifelike representations of murder, torture, and brutality. ..For instance, Fallout 3, one of the seven top-selling games of all time, displays "realistic dismemberment" and "slow motion decapitation" while players "use a kitchen knife to kill household members and pets." (pp. 69-70)
What can you yourself do to protect children you know and love from the harmful effects of media violence?
Stop Teaching Our Children to Kill concludes with a chapter called Actions Speak Louder Than Words. This chapter goes far beyond the usual calls for our government to pass gun legislation to suggest excellent ideas for all parents, offering strategies for dealing with each age-group, --three to five, elementary school, etc. The book also concludes with comprehensive listings of resources for advocating against media violence.
Violent media is ever-present in today's world. Yet you, every one of you, can make a difference in protecting yourself, your children, your community, your country and yourself from its horrifying potential impacts. Spending your downtime or letting your kids spend theirs by watching violence? Think again.
Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is author of Power of Two, a book, a workbook, and a website that teach the communication skills that sustain positive relationships.
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