The Media & the Toys
Playing with violent toys and exposure to violent forms of media: TV, videos, computer games, and the Internet is all part of the same picture. Violent toys and media teach children that: war and fighting is a game, an adventure, killing is acceptable, even fun, violence or the threat of violence is the only way to resolve conflicts, the world has good guys and bad guys who have no human qualities and should be destroyed, violence is rewarded not punished, being a hero means using violence.
Children learn how to behave by imitating role models, including their parents and the super-heroes. Research over many years has shown that watching violence on television leads to aggressive behaviour. The best predictor of adult aggressive behaviour is childhood aggressive behaviour. The second best predictor is early exposure to televised violence. Once a child is aggressive and has aggressive values, television and media violence contribute, maintain, and
reinforce those attitudes, which can stay for a long, long time. They become part of their adult behaviour pattern. However, it is not just behaviour but changes in attitudes towards violence. What you think about violence, how you think conflict should be resolved, desensitization, how you view real victims of violence, your attitudes about the acceptance of violence, are all results.
The average child between 6 and l4 years old will see about 11,000 murders. Cartoons are the most violent with 26 violent acts per hour. Because of technological changes children are being exposed to very graphic violence: particularly highly sexualized violence and extreme forms of violence against women. With prolonged exposure to violence, perceptions change. We are not as sympathetic, we’re not as empathetic, we don’t see as much injury, as much pain, as much suffering to a real victim of violence: desensitization has occurred. But we have choices and power over our lives.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Turn off the TV. Just say no! to the TV show, (aggressive superhero) video, toy or playing guns. Say no gently and firmly and stick to it. Provide your kids with a healthier lifestyle by taking charge of the media in their lives. Limit viewing, set clear limits, provide choices, and talk about what is being shown. Don’t use the TV as a babysitter. Show them the alternatives. Encourage reading, music-making, art & crafts, hobbies, sports, and social activities. Visit your public library for books and educational videos. Teach children critical viewing skills and be clear about why you avoid certain programs, movies, and video games. Make sure your actions are consistent with the values you enforce. Help your child have a sense of self-worth that doesn’t depend on a toy. Most importantly talk and listen with your children. Explain to them why you don’t like them to pretend to hurt or kill someone. Teach them to think for themselves and be proud of who they are and their values. Talk about what real heroes and heroines do. Show children examples in the newspaper. Set a rule that aggressive behaviour is unacceptable. Step in to de-escalate play before it becomes too aggressive. Give children choices and power in real life, which playground to visit or what to make for lunch. Have a voice in local TV programming. Call or write your local stations and networks. Get involved with local organizations and coalitions. Know that many people are making peaceful choices.
The Media Awareness Network offers practical support for media education in the home, school and community. www.media-awareness.ca