What Parents Can Do About Television Violence

By the time kids graduate high school, many have witnessed 40,000 murders on television. Here's what parents can do about it.

After dinner the family gathers in the living room and switches on the television. Fourteen-year-old Bobby finds a recent film in progress. Checking the television guide, you see it's rated PG-13. With a sigh of relief you settle back to watch this allegedly entertaining movie. But in the first three minutes, two people die in a car explosion and follow-up shooting.

Disturbed, you suggest changing the station. A teenager's face grins from the television screen. Following a blood-chilling scream, she collapses with the audience left wondering what's happened.

Nervous now, your husband indicates another channel change. Homicide, hit men, and high profile criminals fill the screen with larger than life enactments of violent crime. Bobby watches, transfixed by the gore and excitement. With a sigh you get up to switch to a cartoon channel. Even there, hapless animal characters get thrown from cliffs, crushed by boulders, and shot by hunters. It's everywhere, isn't it?

Research suggests that children who watch two hours or more of television per day will witness more than 40,000 acts of violence by the time they graduate high school, including murder, assault, explosions, torture, and other forms of criminal activity. By contrast, many do not receive regular spiritual or moral training to put the violence into perspective or even to clearly show that it is wrong, with destructive consequences. As a result, many children grow up to believe that violence is a normal part of life, that the bad guy can (and sometimes should) win, and that when you do something bad, you might just get away with it and certainly will earn a measure of respect.

Parents who are concerned about violence in television programming can do a number of things to protest the way in which today's television shows promote an amoral or criminal way of life:

1. Turn it off. Allow kids to watch no more than 30 minutes of television per day. Add another 30 minutes occasionally for good behavior or as a special treat, such as for holiday programming. Kids should learn that television is a supplemental household tool, not a primary focus of daily entertainment.



2. Borrow videos from the library or rent them from family video stores. Trade with other families to provide your children with a balance of wholesome movies. But don't let kids expect to watch videos every day. Save them for weekends or family time and make it special with treats for all present.

3. Turn on to education. Learning programs, nature shows, biographical segments, and other useful programming can be viewed by kids for positive reinforcement of television use. Keep tabs on shows aired on the Arts and Entertainment Network, the History channel, or Discovery. Don't get addicted even to this kind of programming, but rather, use these shows to supplement other recreational activity.

4. Write to the violent shows' producers. Check with the library for contact information and write an informed, courteous letter explaining what you find inappropriate about the television series or movie that aired recently. List titles, dates, and times to add credence to your complaint. Encourage other parents to sign their names to your letter or to write their own.

5. Write to government leaders. State representatives and senators often debate broadcasting and film industry decency issues. Send a copy of your letter to the Hollywood producer or a new letter, outlining specific scenes, themes, or shows that can steer young viewers in negative ways.

6. Boycott program sponsors. Find out which companies support an unsuitable show or film, and stop buying their products. Send a letter informing the company of your decision, and urge other parents to do the same. Cancelled sales mean lost profits for advertisers, who may pull their support from an offensive program.

7. Get moving. Medical reports suggest that today's kids are too sedentary for their own good. Some are overweight and headed toward obesity, with potential long-term chances of diabetes, heart problems, or cancer. Play a family game of basketball or volleyball. Take a hike. Stroll the park. Rake leaves. Help paint a less fortunate person's house. Opportunities are endless for physical activity and fun or good deeds.

8. Move the set to a corner. Sell your large television and replace it with a 20-inch model on a cart that can be rolled in and out of the room. Out of sight, out of mind the saying goes. Enjoy your family or living room for other activities, like reading books, writing letters or journals, or playing a board game.

Television need not dominate our lives and shape children's minds around negative ideas. Take active steps to protect your children against this insidious social problem.

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