Five years old and already too old for Thomas the Train, Sesame Street, and Winnie-the-Pooh—at least, that is, when friends come over. In anticipation of a play date, Thomas and his train pals are quickly loaded into a trunk purchased just for that purpose. Similarly, Pooh books get shoved to the back of the shelf, and Sesame Street characters are mentioned only in passing, a childhood memory fondly recalled by preschoolers.
Childhood games and toys have now, it seems, been replaced by video games, many of them all-too-realistically violent and readily available on smart phones, computers, and tablets, too–and getting in the hands of our very youngest children. At the same time, such venues as Dave & Buster’s hold sway as kids blow up enemy ships and fire on soldiers and other good folks without so much as blinking an eye. When killing becomes commonplace in games, is it a reach to think it just might raise children’s tolerance for aggression and brutality?
Says the American Psychological Association, “The active role required by video games is a double-edged sword. It helps educational games be excellent teaching tools for motivational and learning process reasons. But it also may make violent video games even more hazardous than violent television or cinema . . . Recent video games reward players for killing innocent bystanders, police, and prostitutes, using a wide range of weapons including guns, knives, flame throwers, swords, baseball bats, cars, hands and feet . . . In some, the player assumes the role of hero, whereas in others the player is a criminal.”
The organization’s conclusion: “Violent video games are significantly associated with increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior.”
A similar view has been voiced by many others and now none other than Senator Jay Rockefeller who just yesterday introduced a bill to investigate the effect of on-screen violence, including video games, on children.
And while the violence on television may pale in comparison to video games, it still captivates and further desensitizes viewers. Likewise the big screen. Take the Hunger Games, for example, and its fight-to-the-death action. An eye opener on many levels, but, for me, none so much as when a mother walked in with two little kids looking to be about four and six. Thinking she might be clueless as to the film’s content, I assumed she’d make a hasty departure once the killing began. I was wrong, though; they sat through the whole movie.
Parenting in the new millennium.
And so now it comes to yet another school shooting, this latest one in quiet Newtown, Connecticut that ended with the deaths of 27 victims, 20 of them young children. We stand together in shared grief and despair, knowing full well that, just as a child wielded a gun at Sandy Hook Elementary School, such tragedy can happen anywhere—even here in Montgomery County. Actually it already did back on May 24, 1993. On that day, 16-year-old Jason Smith, a student at Upper Perkiomen Valley High School, killed a fellow student who had bullied him and was sentenced to from 12-1/2 to 25 years in prison.
In response to the Newtown shootings, some entertainers are taking steps, albeit temporary ones, to express their sorrow through action. For instance, the premier of the extremely violent film Django Unchained was cancelled by its producer, the Weinstein Company–“out of respect for those in mourning.”
Those in the music industry are making some moves, too, as its provocative lyrics come under scrutiny in the wake of recent events. For instance, formerly top-of-the-chart Die Young has now been pulled from numerous radio stations. Ironically, the artist Ke$ha, who once took credit for writing the lyrics, now says she was “forced” to make the record which pulses with such words as, “Looking for some trouble tonight (yeah). Take my hand, I’ll show you the wild side like it’s the last night of our lives (uh huh). We’ll keep dancing ‘til we die . . .”
In the end, though, for all the public handwringing and expressions of grief, Howard Bragman, vice-chairman of Reputation.com, realistically says, “Don’t expect the entertainment industry to rethink its menu of violence in movies, TV, and video games.” And so it goes.
Meanwhile, also in response to such tragedies, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis has awarded $479,513 to 37 public schools via the Safe Schools Targeted Grants; 97 applications were received. The goal: establish and put into action programs aimed at reducing and preventing acts of violence.
And while our schools and law enforcement strive to keep us safe, the most convenient blame game target is, of course, guns. Truth be told, regardless of where we stand on the issue, the facts are hard to deny:
- There are more than 129,817 federally licensed firearms dealers in the U.S.; of these, 51,438 are retail gun stores, 7,356 are pawn shops, and 61,562 are collectors.
- In 2010, there were 5,459,240 new firearms manufactured in the U.S., plus 3,252,404 firearms imported here.
- In 2010, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 16,454,951 checks for firearms purchases. Only .48% were denied—78,211.
- Between 2006 and 2010, 47,856 people were murdered in the U.S. by firearms.
Moreover, using records from 2006 to 2010, USA Today found that “156 murders met the FBI definition of mass killings, in which four or more people are killed by the attacker.” The result: 774 dead, with at least 161 of them children under 12 years of age.
Meanwhile, just today, these headlines:
- “Girl brings pellet gun to Longview (Oregon) Middle School”
- “Teen tries to bring loaded gun into Detroit middle school . . .”
- “11-year-old suspended after threatening to shoot up middle school”
- Gun Scare at JHS 218, a Brooklyn Middle School, Frightening Students Following Newtown Shooting”
We’re in trouble here, folks. Nevertheless—and perhaps because of such unsettling news and all the uptick in gun control talk—gun enthusiasts lined up in droves at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Montgomery County for this past weekend’s gun show. It should be noted that kids under 12 and accompanied by an adult were admitted for free. Meanwhile, said one participant, “A rifle doesn’t kill people; people kill people. Crazy stuff is going to happen whether it is done with a gun or a car or anything.”
A familiar refrain and one reiterated by Ron Erke, a USA Today reader, who added, “It doesn’t matter what tool they use to do it. This is a cultural problem that has been seeping into America for the last 20 or so years. I don’t know whether its’ the violence in video games, TV, or movies, but our kids are being desensitized and do not value life as we once did.”
And then there’s this from Grassfire Nation’s Steven Elliot: “What we face is more like a cancer than a virus. Our society has turned on itself, and these mass murders are the shocking fruit. The perpetrators of these crimes now typically turn their weapons on themselves and have essentially become societal suicide bombers . . . And what is the root cause? The destruction of the family.”
The bottom line: While we’re looking behind the mirror for something to blame—the NRA and readily available firearms, pulp culture, technology, moral decay, and/or the dissolution of the family–perhaps we adults should also take a good look at ourselves in that mirror. The urgency is there to patrol our own behavior while providing nurturing homes for our children and keeping the inappropriate out of their hands. It all starts on the homefront and investing in the people we love. As Mr. Bragman pointed out: “Realistically, the responsibility goes to parents.”