Children, Violence and the Media: A Report for Parents and Policy Makers

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Media Violence Causes Youth Violence

Table of Contents: Further Readings

Children, Violence, and the Media: A Report for Parents and Policy Makers, September 14, 1999.

The links between media violence and youth violence have been periodically explored by various U.S. government agencies, including congressional committees. In 1999, in the wake of a series of violent school shootings, the majority staff of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary prepared a report on media violence, excerpts of which form the following viewpoint. According to the committee, numerous research studies have shown that media violence has detrimental effects on the psychological development of children. Violence in television, motion pictures, and other media can cause children to be more violent, desensitized to violence, and fearful of the world. As you read, consider the following questions:

1. How much violence are children exposed to by watching television, according to the authors? 2. In what ways do the authors contend that media violence can harm even young children? 3. What concerns do the authors express about violent lyrics in popular songs? The statistics are chilling. In 1997, law enforcement agencies in the United States arrested an estimated 2.8 million persons under age 18. Of that number, an estimated 2,500 juveniles were arrested for murder and 121,000 for other violent crimes. According to the FBI, juveniles accounted for 19% of all arrests, 14% of all murder arrests, and 17% of all violent crime arrests in 1997.

While the number of arrests of juveniles for violent crimes declined slightly from 1996 to 1997, the number of juvenile violent crime arrests in 1997 was still 49% above the 1988 level.

James Q. Wilson, one of our foremost experts on crime, has observed, "Youngsters are shooting at people at a far higher rate than at any time in recent history." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") reports that a survey showed that some 5.9% of the American high school students surveyed said that they had carried a gun in the 30 days prior to the survey. Equally troubling, that survey also shows that 18% of high school students carry a knife, razor, firearm, or other weapon on a regular basis, and 9% of them take a weapon to school. While studies show that the amount of youth violence has started to decline, the CDC warns that "the prevalence of youth violence and school violence is still unacceptably high."...

Causes of Violence
Fortunately, our nation's growing alarm carries with it a collective will for finding a solution. Americans know that something is wrong, and they are united in their desire to address the problem of youth violence. Americans also realize that a variety of factors underlie this national tragedy, including disintegrating nuclear families, child abuse and neglect, drug and alcohol abuse, a lack of constructive values, a revolving-door juvenile justice system, and pervasive media violence....

Those who would focus solely on the instrumentalities children use to cause harm surely are mistaken. After all, there are unlimited ways that a child bent on violence can harm another person. Thus, limiting the access of troubled children to firearms and other weapons is but one aspect of a comprehensive approach. The remainder of that approach must address this question: Why does a child turn to violence?

A growing body of research concludes that media violence constitutes one significant part of the answer. With respect to television violence alone, a 1993 report by University of Washington epidemiologist Brandon S. Centerwall expresses a startling finding: "[If], hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults. Violent crime would be half what it is." Plainly, any solution to the juvenile violence problem that fails to address media...
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