By Sherry Robinson
New Mexico News Services
Back in the day, the Lone Ranger disarmed the bad guy by shooting the gun out of his hand. If anybody got wounded, there was a spot of ketchup on his shirt.
What’s this got to do with the unrelenting and frightening news stories about violence by kids? More than you might think.
Lately, a 12-year-old in Roswell who shot two fellow students pleaded no contest. A California youth, frustrated by the failure of beautiful women to notice him, murdered people randomly. And now two girls, under the influence of website fiction, stab another girl.
We could have another debate about gun laws and gun access, although in part, knives were the weapon of choice.
What if we turn the debate around and ask what goes on at the front end of these tragedies. Why do some kids think it’s okay to hurt or kill other kids? What’s going on?
A UNM pediatrician points straight at media violence.
Victor Strasburger has appeared on national media to urge his fellow pediatricians to stop worrying whether kids’ car seats face forward or backward and start warning parents about exposure to violence on TV, in movies, and in games.
He asks how, some 50 years after the first congressional hearings on media violence, we’re still wondering whether it translates into real violence when thousands of studies are clear: “The connection between media violence and real-life aggression is nearly as strong as the connection between smoking and lung cancer.”
Of course, not every smoker gets lung cancer, and not every kid who watches a blood-and-guts movie will kill somebody later, Strasburger says, and much depends on personality and parenting. But enough can be directly blamed on media violence to take it seriously and demand accountability from Hollywood and game developers – who steadfastly deny responsibility.
Strasburger has taken Hollywood to task repeatedly for ramping up violence and pointed out that the ratings haven’t kept up. He’s also said that parents need to “stop thinking of sex as ‘worse’ than violence. It is not.”
Last fall the American Academy of Pediatrics, led by Strasburger, told parents they were being naive about how their kids use media today. “I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography,” he said. That’s above and beyond the Playboy his dad may have hidden in the box springs as a teen.
Parents, he said, should limit all media use to one or two hours a day and pay attention to what their kids are watching. This includes both TV and new media (cell phones and the like). The academy has said that children under age 2 should have no exposure.
And yet, the average kid is using some kind of media nearly eight hours a day; for teens, it’s 11 hours a day. These days, most kids have cell phones and most have a TV in their rooms. Even without Strasburger and the academy, most people are painfully aware of cyber-bullying, sexting, and sleep deprivation.
Hit pause for reality check. I write all this having seen lots of young parents use their smart phones or iPads as electronic babysitters when they need a break or crave some peace and quiet. If I were in their shoes, I’d do the same thing. I think the point is, as Ralph Waldo Emerson used to say, moderation in all things.
Recently I spoke to a mom who told me she doesn’t allow her 17-year-old son to play video games in their home. He can play them at his friends’ homes if he wants. The outcome is, he reads. Imagine that. It’s safe to say he’ll do fine on school tests, and we won’t be seeing his name in headlines for shooting his classmates.
Sherry Robinson is a New Mexico journalist who began her career in 1976 and has served as assistant business editor and columnist with the Albuquerque Journal, editor of New Mexico Business Weekly and business editor of the Albuquerque Tribune.