In this day and age, it seems as though children’s behavior has become not only unpredictable, but increasingly violent. As violent behavior across America’s schools and playgrounds become common, so do reports of it. The American media, both independent and mainstream, treat violent behavior among children differently. Some news outlets attempt to understand the source of the violence—for example, charging the entertainment industry with desensitizing children to violence—while other news media sensationalize violent behavior itself. There is a fundamental difference in the way that the independent news and the mainstream news treat their subjects, which reveals a great deal about their individual character and integrity.
Who affects children’s minds and behavior? Who is ultimately responsible? I feel the American media has created a culture in which parents fear for their children and teachers fear for their lives. The images in violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto and television programs might be the (literal) triggers that send children to commit violence against one another. Many psychologists contend that media violence contributes directly to real-world violence. A November 2, 2003 Medical News Today article goes so far as to say that media violence is connected to aggression in children, but that “most public policy attempts to reduce children’s media violence exposure in the U.S. have failed” (“Iowa State Psychologists”). This paints a sobering picture in the American public’s crusade against child violence, though it also reads as initially pessimistic.
The Medical News Today article cites a report from three Iowa State University psychologists. This report is preoccupied with curbing the exposure American children have to violent images in the media. However, these psychologists claim that there are many options that have gone unexplored. They see problems between “what scientific findings suggest and what the U.S. courts and society understand [about media violence],” “opposing ‘expert’ testimony,” and the fact that courts are not willing to overturn or restrict the First Amendment. It is a lucid, cautious article revolving around public policy and offers several genuine suggestions to how violent media can be kept away from children. In fact, the cited report goes so far as to incriminate the news media (in this case, the mainstream media) for “focus[ing] on violent media effects in terms of atrocities like Columbine.”
Medical News Today is not criticizing outlets like itself; instead, the website seems positioned above all the rest, occasionally coming off as more informed than its mainstream counterparts. Owned by the European company MediLexicon International LLC, it reports an annual readership of two million. The website claims to target both physicians and the general public, serving as a watchdog of medical news as well as a comprehensive resource for medical professionals. The website itself is not designed with a “breaking news” section; it is markedly reserved and modest in the way it presents its news stories.
A similar article (“Media Violence May Affect Children’s Minds”), published through the popular WebMD website, covers the same topic in the same manner. While brief, the article does the job in examining how and why media violence and aggression in children are linked together. The article cites a journal, albeit one written by a researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine. The message is the same, but it is a little difficult to get past the fact that the WebMD article has crafted an article out of one solitary researcher’s findings—not a group or a team, like the Medical News Today article. Regardless, the researcher covers much of the same territory, claiming that “nonaggressive children who had been exposed to high levels of media violence had similar patterns of activity in an area of the brain linked to self-control and attention as aggressive children who had been diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder” (“Media Violence”).
While alarming, the article is not alarmist. It explores the psychological reasoning behind media violence and children. It is interesting to note that WebMD and Medical News Today have much the same readership: medical professionals and the interested general public. However, WebMD is a much larger resource than Medical News Today, boasting 40 million users per month. It is considered the “leading health portal in the United States,” according to the site itself. With such a staggering number of visitors per month, WebMD holds a great deal of responsibility on its shoulders, in terms of the information it presents. It is also interesting that WebMD is not held accountable by a board of directors or a leading pharmaceutical company; it is funded entirely by private contributions. Also, the medical information is vetted by a medical review board that consists of several physicians.
A slightly different article, “Attack of the 3rd Graders?” can be found as part of something called The Responsibility Project. The article covers the disturbing story of “third grade plotters—nine students between the ages of 8 and 10—[who] were allegedly readying a revenge assault against a teacher who had given one of the children a time-out for standing on a chair.” The article is essentially a news report, but charges violent media right out of the gate. Repeatedly mentioning “violent video games and television [as] getting much of the blame,” the article is open-ended. The article is thinner than the previous two on media violence and aggression in children, using a single event as a springboard to discuss larger societal issues. However, despite the opportunity to do otherwise, the article does little to investigate, explore, or examine the reasoning or motivations behind the failed attack.
This is largely because The Responsibility Project is actually a blog. The blog covers a series of categories ranging from celebrity to education, as well as law to media. It is a site filled with short films specifically created for the blog which, according to the Project’s manifesto, is “an exploration of what it means to do the right thing.” This immediately calls into question several things. First, the blog entry’s author seems to have one purpose in mind with the blog itself: to spark debate and (possibly) incite concern. The article leads directly toward a discussion about media violence and child aggression within the comments section of the blog entry. Like most blogs, it fields the subject as an open forum, not a controlled discussion or examination of the situation. It is also published without a professional’s point of view. It should also be noted that The Responsibility Project is funded by Liberty Mutual, an insurance company, which has a personal stake in making people feel secure.
In square contrast with the first three articles examining the purported link between media violence and real-world violence among children are two articles published by Fox News and CNN. Both are mainstream outlets, funded by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner, respectively. The Fox News article “Media Violence Spurs Fear, Aggression in Kids” focuses upon a British psychologist group’s findings in regards to media violence, noting that “computer games have become much more sophisticated, drawing the player into the games’ virtual worlds, many of which are violent.” While the article doesn’t add anything particularly new or significant to the debate raging among similar articles, though it is far more interesting in how Fox News treats the subject. In the Related Links field, there are a number of articles published by Fox News that seem to prey upon parents’ fears regarding media violence and their children’s exposure to it.
For example, an article entitled “Violence Common in Nursery Rhymes” posits that children aren’t even safe from nursery rhymes. The author claims that “traditional nursery rhymes have more than ten times the number of violent scenes per hour as TV,” which either serves to undermine the whole “media is responsible for violence” debate or rope traditional nurse rhymes into the same arena as, say, Grand Theft Auto. In fact, the article has a far-reaching concept of how children internalize violence, almost suggesting that it is hard-wired into us from birth. The media, the article seems to suggest, might just play off innate human behavior, not planting the seed for it. We are violent-prone individuals, the article contends, and it is up to parents to serve as the filter. While this conclusion is nothing new, since it emerges in just about every article related to violence and children, it is fascinating that Fox News would choose to run this story.
One researcher concludes that any “reinterpretation of an ancient problem through modern eyes is difficult, and laying the blame solely on television viewing is simplistic and may divert attention from vastly more complex societal problems” (“Nursery Rhymes”). If this truly is the case—and the article leaves it open for debate—Fox News has ultimately acquitted itself. The article argues that the media is not to blame. Instead, violence predates any manner of violence Fox News might choose to air that evening on their news broadcast.
CNN, owned by Time Warner (which released the violent film The Matrix, and considered by some to have inspired the Columbine shootings), published a transcript of a program titled “Study on Violent Kids has Surprising Results.” Hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the program does the same thing the Fox News article does: it deflects blame and supports the notion that violence is not directly related to violent behavior in children. Gupta claims that “there were a lot of surprising things about this study, and there’s so many stereotypes about trying to predict, especially among child psychologists, trying to predict which kids are actually going to grow to up to possibly be troublemakers, or be aggressive and things like that … they were surprised also at some of the things they found were not predictors for aggression: gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class.” By introducing gender, race, ethnicity, and class as possible social triggers, CNN has clouded the issue by making it more difficult to point the finger at violent images, directly or indirectly, stemming from television.
Both CNN and Fox News have commercial interests in mind, including their respective movie studios, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, which constantly churn out one violent movie after the next. It is unsurprising that the mainstream outlets play upon the fears of parents and redirect parents’ and professionals’ charges that these companies are helping to manufacture a culture of violence. Children are almost nurtured by violent images, in many ways, and major corporations with diverse interests (entertainment versus the news) cannot be trusted. In contrast, independent news sources with highly specific interests such as Medical News Daily or WebMD, do a far better job of keeping the information balanced, educational, and unbiased. In the same way that it is up to parents to monitor and discern what their children watch, it is up to everyone to keep a close eye on where their information comes from.
Ferlazzo, Mike. “Iowa State Psychologists Explore Public Policy and Effects of Media Violence
on Children.” Medical News Today. 24 Dec. 2007
Gupta, Sanjay. “Study on Violent Kids has Surprising Results.” CNN. 22 Aug 2002.
Grayson Mathis, Charlotte E. “Media Violence May Affect Children’s Minds.” WebMD Health
News. 10 June 2005. <http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20050610/media-
Hitti, Miranda. “Media Violence Spurs Fear, Aggression in Kids.” Fox News 21 Feb. 2005
Hitti, Miranda. “Violence Common in Nursery Rhymes.” WebMD. 17 Nov. 2004
McManus, Kathy. “Attack of the 3rd Graders?” The Responsibility Project. 4 April 2008.