“The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live…”
Adlai Stevenson, Mid-20th Century Ambassador to the UN
The world we live in is filled with terror. Reports of wars, shootings of all types, bombings, natural disasters, and senseless acts of hatred are a daily occurence. Not only are we bombarded by these images on the nightly news, but violence is permeated in every form of media available to adults and children alike.
When I was approached by Kirsty Pickering at That Noise Is Mine with the topic of her monthly guest post, I was apprehensive – I don’t have any children of my own. However, I do claim and love dearly many other children of close friends that I consider my family, as well as my nieces and nephews. I also tutor “my kids” and we often talk about current events for school. Moving forward with this piece, I thought of them, and how they are affected by the world and people around them. I was forced to think about technology, media, and entertainment in a different way – and let me tell you, this project was an eye-opener.
According to research, our children have been under assault by the violence in media going way back to the 1950s. The American Academy of Family Physicians has compiled numerous studies that examine the relationship between violence in the entertainment media and the negative effect on children. In 2000, for example, the FBI released an official report “noting that media violence is a risk factor in shootings in school.” A 2007 report from the FCC stated that there is “strong evidence that exposure to violence through the media can increase aggressive behavior in children.” In fact, one study found the association “nearly as strong as the association between cigarette smoke and lung cancer!”
Why is the association so incredibly strong?
According to the AAFP research, “studies have shown that by the time young people living today reach their 70s, they will have spent the equivalent of 7 to 10 years of their lives watching television.” Their research shows that “families own nearly four televisions, nearly three DVD players, one DVR, two CD players, two radios, two video game consoles, and two computers.” That’s all in one single household! In addition, “media consumption through mobile devices and the Internet is increasing in every age group.” In the Awake! cover series article “The Pressures Facing Today’s Youths” it was remarked, “One researcher thus claims that “‘about 90% of young people ages 5 to 17 use computers, and 59% of them use the Internet’” and we all know that this is probably with little to no supervision. In fact, an estimated 54% of American children watch TV in the privacy of their own bedrooms, where they will witness up to 200,000 violent acts by the time they are 18 – or 9 times every hour!
What an incredible travesty! Why don’t more people realize this is happening to today’s youth? Where’s the outrage? “The Pressures Facing Today’s Youths” states, “‘Despite the consensus among experts,’ observed Science magazine, “lay people do not seem to be getting the message from the popular press that media violence contributes to a more violent society.’”
So I suppose this is the the crux of the matter – it is inevitable that our children will be exposed to violence in the media at some point or another. Even if we try to shelter them, it is everywhere! It is inescapable.
I interviewed a few friends in preparation for this post. Lezlie, a mother of two elementary school age children, told me that her family doesn’t have cable television, and therefore don’t have access to cable news stations. They also regulate closely what their children do on the computer and watch on Netflix. However, the school they attend recently started doing Terrorism Drills. This prompted questions and a quick need for a parental discussion.
So, as you see, even if we try, we cannot prevent our children from being exposed to at least some evidence of violence, terrorism, or negative imaging in the media.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Violence – it’s like the air around us – if you smell something bad, you may try to hold your breath to get away from it, but eventually, you will need to breathe again; and the there’s that smell.” quote=”Violence – it’s like the air around us – if you smell something bad, you may try to hold your breath to get away from it, but eventually, you will need to breathe again; and the there’s that smell.”]
So now what? If these images and influences are inevitable, what steps can we take as parents, friends, aunts and uncles to protect our children as much as possible? What can we do as a community to help them deal with all this bad news?
Internet-safety expert Parry Aftab said, “Kids know more about technology. Parents know more about life.” In other words, we as adults need to guide our children through these tumultuous images, stories, and entertainment choices. But, why not give them the freedom to do what they want?
A ancient Proverb acknowledges “foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy,” or another version renders it, “children just naturally do silly, careless things.”
Our kids are just that – kids! They are prone to the insecure and anxious feelings common to growing up. When you mix in the confusion and craziness of the world that we live in today, navigating to adulthood can be even harder.
What is needed then from us as a community of adults? First and foremost, is regular and open communication between parent and child (or guardian and child, teacher and child, adult and child, etc.). Ongoing communication between children and those they respect and hold dear is extremely important. We don’t want our kids to be damaged by adult issues sooner than they should, but at the same time, we don’t want them getting false information elsewhere. So, they should feel comfortable coming to us when they feel worried about the things they see or hear, never feel afraid or ashamed to ask questions, never feel we are too busy for them, and they should feel confident and secure in they answers they receive. In a 2007 Addition of Awake! Magazine entitled, “Helping Youths Meet the Challenge” it states, “Be assured, though, that they want to talk – yes, to you, their parent – about matters both serious and trivial. The question is, Are you ready and willing to listen?”
Many parents and physicians alike have found that setting boundaries on technology and entertainment can help in regards to the amount of exposure, and therefore helps with the overall effect on the children. In addition, overall discipline in this manner helps set a tone for the family and the relationship between members of the family. In the book The Secret of Family Happiness it acknowledges, “parents must find a balanced way to protect their family from the destructive influences that rain down on them from many sources… Some parents do little or nothing to shield their family. Others… are so restrictive that the children feel as if they are suffocating.” The book goes on to bring out that balance must be struck according to individual families. Parents need to set boundaries, rules, and restrictions, while at the same time training the children to know what is real and appropriate. This takes time, as the parents have to become with familiar with the technology their children are using in order to be able to set the restrictions, and to answer any questions. Imagine – all of us having to brush up on our SnapChat filters! The AAFP recommends setting locks blocking certain ratings or images from the child’s device, or even setting up apps that turn off the device automatically at a certain time of night. The best advice I have seen from all sources is to not have a TV or computer in a child’s private bedroom. This allows co-viewing with the parents, encouraging the parents and children to discuss anything that may come up during viewing or homework, and prevents anything being viewed by the child that may be scary or deemed inappropriate by the parents.
What if our child had already viewed an act of violence through the media? What steps can we take then?
Our first step in teach our children should always be through our own example. If we express anger, hatred, prejudice, retaliation, fear, etc., this is what our child will learn to feel and express. We want to display the qualities that we wish our children would want to display in any circumstance. Remain calm, maintain your love for others, never express extremities.
I asked a friend of mine named Brenda this question, who has four children, ages 11, 10, 7, and 6. “I told my children we are not prejudiced toward anyone. God made a variety of forms of creation, just as he made a variety of people. We should love them all.” Her calm, clear, reasonable reply was what her children needed to feel secure in that stressful situation. Her example in connection with her reply was what was needed in that circumstance.
Lastly, I personally think that to fully help our children to understand and deal with the climate of fear we live in, we should not let them live everyday in a world of fear, but with a hope for the future. If children have to live in fear constantly, it has serious consequences on their psychological and emotional development. Now, I acknowledge that every person had a choice what they believe and what they hope for the future. That aside, I believe that as parents, teachers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and adults raising these children up we have an obligation to give them something to hope for, something to look forward to. Not to live in fear and terror while they go through bomb and terror drills at school everyday.
Lezlie, mentioned earlier, had that experience with her 8 and 9 year old children. After their public school started terror drills, they decided to discuss the article, “Do Not Be Afraid or Be Terrified” in The Watchtower Magazine with their children in order to solidify their Biblical hope for the future after such an event. She says, “The article is so comprehensive, they really didn’t have any further questions.” Quoted in the article in the ancient Bible scripture of hope and peace, “Just a little while longer, and the wicked will be no more; You will look at where they were, And they will not be there. But the meek will possess the earth, And they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” Sharing your hope for the future with your children can help them deal with the uncertainty of today.
The world we live in is filled with terror. We live in a climate of fear. Our children our exposed to it, and there is little we can do to prevent it. But there is much we can do as an adult community to prevent them from being damaged by it. With time, patience, planning, and love, we can guide our children into a hopeful future without fear. Are you ready?
(This post was originally posted in part on the blog That Noise is Mine authored by Kirsty Pickering in conjunction with a monthly guest debate series “TNIM Talks.” To see the original post, as well as read the other guest posts with the theme “Should children be exposed to violence and terrorist events through the media?” please head to Kirsty’s blog here).