JAN ARNOW

Chapter 1

Conditioning for Hatred and Violence

 

Play is the way children practice for the adult world. Anyone who has

watched a small child playing with a simple wooden airplane knows how a toy

can stimulate a child's imagination. Toys and games are the turnstile

through which the child passes to enter the adult world. Playtime should

be a magical juncture during which children can feel strong and empowered.

When they play, children should be able to work on their understanding

between make-believe and reality; they should begin to comprehend and

process basic ideas about morals and values; and they should be learning

about cooperation and the needs of others. Increasingly, however, as toys

of aggression, conflict and war proliferate, playtime is beginning to

resemble more tour of duty than a series of magic moments.

 

Consider this:

 

* Nineteen million toy guns were sold in the United

States in 1986. A year later that number jumped 73.7%

to 33 million sold;

 

* Sales of war toys have risen over 500% from 1986 -1990

to well over a billion dollars a year;

 

* Despite the fact that the winter holiday season celebrates

 life and light, in the past decade more than half of the

 best-selling toys and games during that season have

been various types of war toys;

 

* Sales of video game systems topped out at 69 million

units by mid-1994. The estimated projected net sales

of video game systems in 1994 was $4.7 billion.

 

Violence in our society is at an all time high, and children are

increasingly involved as active participants. Children's toys, it seems,

are teaching them that war and killing are perfectly acceptable methods of

dealing with conflict.

 

War Toys

War toys are playthings which are used to solve conflict, gain power, or

win through the use of violence. The aim of a war toy is to wound or kill.

While it is true that war play has been with us for centuries (remnants of

what might be war toys have been found in Egypt and others have been found

which date back to the Middle Ages), what has changed over time is as

important as what has remained the same.

 

The Influence of Advertising

In the past, children have been the directors of their own play

experiences, selecting both the essence and inventory of their recreational

activities. But for the last several decades, and especially since the

introduction of the Star Wars toys in the 1970's, children have been

channeled into using single-purpose, character-specific toys to reenact

scenes they have seen in the movies and on television. The media and toy

industries began to determine the content of children's play, the

characters of choice, and the lessons they were supposed to learn from

them. By removing all restrictions that protected children from commercial

exploitation, the deregulation of children's television in the 1980's was

another major force in changing the shape of children's play. The

resulting collaboration between television producers and toy manufacturers

created a rich opportunity for product-driven shows to clog the airwaves

with programs touted as entertainment for children. But since young

children have a difficult time discerning the difference between

advertising and programming, these shows became what we can consider the

first infomercials, dictating toy choices to children at an alarming rate.

This program format quickly became the norm in children's programming. A

proliferation of war toy lines flooded the market, almost all directly tied

to violent cartoon characters. Children now had detailed daily instruction

on what toys to buy and how to play with them. Playtime changed

dramatically.

 

Where once children played outside, interacted with others and used their

fertile imaginations to engage in their rich fantasy lives, they now sat

glued in front of the television set for hours, passively fed information

on what to buy and how to use it. The locus of control had been taken away

from the child and placed firmly in the hands of adult toy manufacturers

whose bottom line was dependent on how big a share they could gain from the

lucrative juvenile market. The most profound effect deregulation and the

resulting advertising blitz had on children was to create the need in them

to own very specific toys, many of them toys of aggression and violence,

simply in order to play.

 

Why then are we so surprised that children seem to be obsessed with violent

actions when manufacturers and the media are literally filling our

children's world with increasingly violent images?

 

Toy Guns and Dolls

The most dramatic increase in war toy sales has been the increase

in the sale of toy guns. Despite the annual count of tragedies involving

children and teen are mistaken for the real thing by adults with guns, toy

designers are stretching to new heights (or sinking to new depths) to come

up with novel gimmicks for toys to make them more realistic and exciting.

Some of them are called "replicas" or "imitations" because they so closely

resemble real weapons. A quick stroll down the toy gun aisle of your local toy

store will reveal a frightening variety of options for children today:

 

* Official Police Play Equipment (Manley)

M-16 rifle, realistic automatic sound. Thirty inch police

belt, police stick, play walkie-talkie with holder, badge,

handcuffs and keys, whistle, sunglasses, handcuff case.

 

* Tidal Force Pump and Shoot Water Gun

Shoots up to 50 feet. Three times as much on three times

the water power. The ultimate water gun with pump and

shoot action.

 

* Voice and Sound Combat Force Rangers Mac 7

with Volume Control (DSI)

Gunner target! Fire! Kablam! Huge three inch speaker

trigger and twist handle to change volume.

 

* Drencher Battle Sound Water Gun (Blue-Box Toys)

MP-12 battle sounds. Motorized continuous stream of

water with four electronic sounds. The exclusive

motorized Drencher with continuous stream of water that

beats all others!

 

* Thunderstrike Motorized Megablaster (Tyco)

Airblasters. Extended ammo system. Action grip.

Flexible wrapable ammo tube wraps around you then

stays in place. Your fire power is unlimited. Hinged hip

stock makes Thunderstrike right- or left-handed.

 

* Airblasters Super Stick Blaster Motorized Blaster (Tyco)

Fires six sticky bullets. Rapid fire action. Motorized

 action enhances accuracy and distance.

Test your aim with super stick bullets.

 

* Airblasters Night Tracker (Tyco)

Shoots night glow tracer ammo. Dual barrel blaster.

The Night Tracker charges bullets so they glow in the dark.

 

Marketed in tandem with many of these weapons are the replicas of the

characters who use them in the cartoons and advertisements, already named

and with their personalities and functions clearly defined. These dolls

are equipped for the 90's, linked with provisions, or what the Army

currently calls "organic assets", that would rival any nation's armed

forces – attack vehicles, artillery lasers and missile systems.

 

If the violent nature of these characters and their accouterments wasn't

enough, they frequently portray racial and sexual stereotypes promoting

hatred in our society -- able-bodied white men as the heroes, foreign-born

males, some with disabilities, as the evil characters, women as victims --

setting children up for dangerous prejudices and bigotry later on in life.

 

The growing realism of these toys is playing an increasingly important role

in war play. Simply stated, these war toys reinforce negative, aggressive

behavior, especially when supported by exposure to violence on television

and in the movies. These toys are teaching our children that:

 

* people who look and act differently should be defeated;

 

* possession of weapons is acceptable;

 

* killing and other forms of violence are acceptable ways of dealing with

conflict;

 

* people do not suffer or really die as a result of war and conflict;

 

* a militarized world is perfectly acceptable.

 

Each time we purchase these toys for our children, or allow others to give

them to them as gifts, we communicate our tacit approval of their usage to

the children who receive them. Playing with war toys that have been

provided to them by adult care givers, reinforced by violent cartoons and

instructional television advertisements produced by adults, delivers the

message that violence is a perfectly acceptable and normal way of life.

 

Video Games

The child's room is dark except for the eerie glow of the television.

Its occupant sits staring in front of the screen for hours on end, his body

frozen, tense from the pumping adrenalin. Only his hands move, jerking to

stab at the joystick and buttons on a small black box. Periodically he

emits sounds, a growl, a grunt, an anguished moan. He is deeply engrossed

in a video game.

 

If you are a parent or care giver of a child in the 90's, this scene is

probably quite familiar to you. You aren't alone. One in every three

homes in America now has a video game unit of some kind. Add to this the

colossal number of handheld video game units sold in the last decade and

the fact that every shopping mall and movie theater is electric with arcade

versions of the games. We have created a situation in which no child in

America, rural or urban, rich or poor, is far away from a video game fix.

 

Video games were the first medium to offer a child the opportunity to

interact with the moving, visual images on the television screen. They

began the expansion of the small screen entertainment industry into our

children's lives, and continue to play a major role. Among the many

reasons for the enormous interest and fondness children have shown for

video games are these:

 

* Children can elevate their skill level over a relatively short

 period of time with little physical effort. Compared to most

sports or other activities like learning to play a musical

instrument where the learning curve is slow, stretching

over months and, in some cases, years, the skills to

master most video games are accumulated at light speed.

 

* The games themselves can be programmed to match the

player's skill level as he moves up through levels of

difficulty, allowing incremental adjustment of the

challenges.

 

* There is no physical danger involved (short of cutting off

blood circulation by sitting in one position too long). You

don't sprain your ankle running for a ball, fall down and

break your glasses, or get shin splints when you play a

video game.

 

* Video games offer a substitute world in which to operate,

away from the stresses of interaction with parents, school

and peers.

 

* Children can enter into the lives of their favorite

characters on the screen and take action as those

characters, activating the dormant medium of television

and giving them a sense of omnipotence and control.

Many of us, watching our children play video games for hours on end, wonder

what a steady diet of these games is doing to their physical, mental and

emotional development.

 

Violence

From the very first appearance of computerized arcade games, there

have been questions about the level of violence in such games. Violence

and aggression are not only pervasive themes in most video games, but a

child's ability to win is in direct proportion to his ability to maim and

kill. In a study by the National Coalition on Television Violence which

surveyed the 95 most popular video games, 58% of them were games of warfare

and 83% featured violent themes. A child must rely on force to win rather

than reason, always leaving behind a trail of blood and gore. Simply

stated, there are only two real choices in these games -- kill or die --

and violence is the only guideline by which the players function.

 

Despite the clusters of children often seen hovering around an arcade game

or in front of a television that is hooked by an umbilicus to a Nintendo

set, there are rarely team players among them. Proximity, in this case,

does not equal community. Typically, an autonomous individual, acting

alone, performs an aggressive act against a screen enemy. The player must

kill or be killed, shoot or be shot, fight or lose by himself, usually

dying a terrifying death. As a bonus, the advances of

modern technology have made possible a frightening degree of realism in

which to play out these deadly scenarios by digitizing the movements of

real actors playing the parts of the characters.

 

Because the societies depicted in most of these games are hierarchical, the

player must destroy the other characters in a "winner takes all" scheme in

order to advance through the various levels of the society and game. This

creates another problem with serious social consequences. Rather than

learning and using skills of negotiation and mediation to move forward,

children learn to shoot first and talk later, if at all. Add to this the

fact that many of the enemy characters in these games are not Americans but

foreigners, continued exposure to these games is training our children to

accept conflict and violence against people who are different from them as

an integral part of life. Even while our schools and neighborhoods are

rapidly becoming diverse, we are conditioning our children to have less

tolerance for differences, and are legitimizing the violence against one

another by our unspoken agreement to allow them to play with these games.

 

Gender Bashing

Another complicated perspective of video violence is that game

producers know that their audience is 75% male and they cater to that

segment of the market. The active characters in most games are

invariably male while the most prevalent role for female characters is that

of victim. The covers of the 50 most popular video games show an

overwhelming imbalance between men and women -- 115 male and 9 female

characters -- a ratio of 13 to 1. When women are included in these games,

they are usually acted upon rather than initiating action.

 

Sex bias and gender stereotyping in video games, as in other media, has

stunning implications for both boys and girls. Children learn that girls

are weak and dependent, constantly in need of assistance, conditioning boys

to assume dominant gender roles. In addition, because childrens' interest

in computers begins with games, the fact that the most popular video games

are more appealing to boys than to girls because of their aggressive and

violent storylines (a fact easily proven by a quick visit to any video

arcade) contributes to the continuing imbalance of males in the computer

industry and other fields requiring technological skills.

 

Immediate Gratification

Having a "long attention span" means simply having the ability to

distinguish between areas of stimulation, to prioritize them, and then to

focus on the most important ones. Children begin to gain this ability

fairly early on, learning to wait their turn and to suppress their need for

immediate gratification albeit with great difficulty at times. But those

who spend time playing video games on a regular basis have a greater delay

in the development of their focusing ability. Because video games appeal

to short term, impulsive thinking rather than the longer term, critical

thinking, they can create an alteration in a child's sense of time,

producing an inability to sustain attention. Many parents and teachers

have found that they must condense their instructions so that theycome to

the point much more quickly in order to keep video-bred children attentive.

We are producing a generation of children who will not be able to sustain

their attention for longer than it takes them to lazerize and obliterate

their enemy on a television screen.

 

Our Challenge

The small screen, whether on a television set, a home computer or

an arcade game, has become universally accepted as the information-delivery

system of choice. School systems all over the country are allocating major

funding for computer-assisted learning centers, and the sale of home

computer game units is soaring. Yet how much do we really know about what

our children are exposed to through these games? What are the

rationalizations we have made to each other in order to allow this medium

to flourish?

 

The argument that these violent and bloody video games are appropriate

outlets for adolescent aggression is faulty. Most research shows that

playing these games supports and sometimes spurs violent activity. The

belief that the fantasy world in video games bears little or no resemblance

to real life in inaccurate. Some of the most popular games depict inner

city police officers shooting drug dealers and street gangs rivaling one

another, effectively functioning as instruction manuals for insuring the

proper response in similar, real life situations.

 

Television

Boob tube. T.V. Idiot box. Telly. Whatever we choose to call

it, television is omnipotent and powerful. It has the persuasive capacity

to entertain us, inform us, shrink the world around us and tell us where to

shop, what to buy and how to act. As such, television has surpassed all

other forms of media to become the primary tool for mass communications.

With more than ninety-eight percent of all homes in the United States

equipped with at least one set, television is, perhaps, our strongest

socializing agent, and its programming helps shape our personalities,

attitudes and perceptions of reality.

 

For some, television is a bastion of free speech, sacrosanct and

untouchable. But for others, the very thought of television's

pervasiveness and power raises a red flag, especially when it comes to the

content of television programming and its effects on children. What

children see, they imitate. And what they see on both broadcast and cable

television is violence, real and simulated.

 

The debate about curbing television violence is not new. What has changed

over the years is the degree to which violence has become standard fare.

When Congress first investigated the issue in the 1950's, sixteen percent

of "prime time" programs featured violence and crime. By 1961 the figure

had increased to fifty percent. And by 1990, although thousands of reports

had been conducted showing the detrimental effects of the proliferation of

violence on television, nearly eighty percent of prime time shows broadcast

at least one overt threat to hurt or kill a person.

 

The accumulated research of nearly three thousand studies indicates a

strong correlation between the viewing of violent images and aggressive

behavior. What's more, evidence has been mounting that children's exposure

to violence on television has long lasting effects on their behavior.

 

The impact of television on children is most easily understood within the

context of normal child development. All infants have the capacity and

desire to imitate adult human behavior, an instinct evidenced by their

frequent mirroring of adult facial expressions. They do not, however,

possess the capability of recognizing whether or not a particular adult

behavior ought to be imitated. The importance of this information is

compounded when combined with the knowledge that children as young as

fourteen months of age have been found to exhibit behaviors that they have

seen on television.

 

Up to age three or four, many children are not fully able to distinguish

reality from fantasy on television programs. Their grasp of motives for

the behavior of characters on television and the subtleties of the moral

conflicts in which they engage is not well developed. Studies have shown

that children believe, for example, that Sesame Street really does exist;

that the characters on television can see and hear us; and what they see on

the screen is actually inside the set. In their minds, the world of

television is entirely factual, and while they may learn differently as

they grow older and as their communication skills increase altering their

reality perceptions, these earliest impressions remain with them -- images

of violence as an exciting, swift and effective way to solve conflicts,

unencumbered by any inherent long term consequences of pain or tragedy.

 

Effects of Violence

An eleven-year-old boy in Alabama shot his pal in the neck with a

.22 caliber rifle, mimicking a television commercial for a child's game

with guns. A seven-year-old Oklahoma boy hanged himself after watching a

cartoon where hanging was depicted. A five year old child set his house

trailer on fire after watching an MTV segment featuring Beavis and Butthead

extolling the glories of setting things on fire. That blaze killed his

three-year-old sister. The causal link between children's exposure to

television violence and their propensity to engage in violent behavior is

no longer conjecture. Life is beginning to imitate art with increasing

frequency.

 

A variety of effects have been found to be associated with repeated viewing of television violence:

 

* Increased aggression

Viewing TV violence increases the likelihood that

children will use violence against their friends and it

increases the severity of the violence they will use. (After

extended viewing, children begin to see violence as a

normal response to stress and an acceptable means of

resolving conflict.)

 

* Desensitization

Viewing television violence decreases in children

feelings of sensitivity to the pain and suffering of others.

They also feel less remorse about their own aggressive

behavior. In the opinion of Dr. William H. Deitz, Jr., chair

of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Task Force on

Children's Television, children who are exposed to a lot

of televised violence seem to become deadened to gore.

"If you are desensitized to violence, " Dietz says, "your

feelings about blowing somebody away on a subway are

less likely to be tinged by remorse." Children also

become less concerned about the aggressive actions of

other children, sometimes developing a "bystander"

mentality in which real violence is viewed as unreal.

 

* Fearfulness

Children who watch a lot of televised violence feel the

world around them is a more dangerous place than those

who don't watch much television. The American

Psychological Association suggests that with

increased viewing, exposure to media violence

increases fearfulness about becoming a victim of

violence and may compound some children's natural

anxieties. Other, more subtle effects have also been found:

 

* Decrease in the sensation of danger

Viewing TV violence can remove or reduce inhibitions

that would normally preclude aggressive behavior and

can create an unrealistic impression of crime and

violence and their consequences. As a result, children

are more likely to become engaged in self-directed

behavior that exposes them to further risk of

violence.

 

* Reinforcement of cultural stereotypes

Much of commercial television, violent or not, reinforces

familiar stereotypes, presenting exaggerated or extremely

narrow representations of people and their activities that

may give children distorted opinions about the world.

Studies have made it clear that heavy viewing of action

shows by 8-10 year old children leads them to develop

negative images of blacks, for example, viewing them as

less competent and less obedient to the law than whites.

 

Women are often in need of rescue, and seem incapable

of defending or helping themselves. Single women are

likely to be attractive, and they are often victims of

violence in the first 15 minutes of an adventure show.

 

Girls who watch more game shows and fantasy-action

shows accept the stereotypes of women as less

competent than men and in general show more prejudice

against their own sex.

 

* Domestic violence

Viewing violence on television can contribute to later

domestic violence. Dr. Judith Reisman, in her 1991 book,

Soft Porn Plays Hardball, states that if a young man

becomes sexually excited while watching a young

woman, and that young woman is brutally attacked, the

violence becomes part of the erotic repertoire in the

young man's imagination.

 

* Unreality about conflicts

Children who watch television can be misled because

most programming makes it appear that there is, or at

least ought to be, an easy solution to every problem they

encounter; and if there isn't, that there must be something

wrong with them, their parents and society. Also, by

depicting most conflicts as resolved in no more than thirty

or sixty minutes, no matter how difficult, television viewing

can greatly reduce a child's attention span and capacity

for dealing with adversity and conflict on a protracted basis .

 

The long term effects are no more promising. In a twenty-two year study

conducted in upstate New York, Dr. Leonard D. Eron discovered that the more

frequently children watched television at age eight, the more serious were

the crimes they were convicted of by age thirty and the harsher the

punishment they inflicted on their own children. Dr. Eron believes that

what one learns about life from the television screen is transmitted even

to the next generation. Whether watching children's cartoon programming

(where the increase in violent actions jumped fourfold after deregulation

in the 1980's) or the nightly news, the indication is clear that childhood

television viewing is becoming a better predictor of teenage and adult

aggression than social class, child-rearing practices and a host of other

factors.

 

Though it is natural and easy to blame the marketplace -- the television

and advertising industries -- for the dismal state of programming today, we

have to remember that ultimately, the marketplace is not the raging

avaricious entity it is often depicted as being; it is neutral. The market

is us. It simply amplifies and multiplies society's cultural trends of the

moment. And with advertisers spending as much as $500 million annually to

reach us, we need to do as Martha Bayles, a former television critic for

the Wall Street Journal, suggests: stop using a constant (the profit

motive) to explain a variable (the amount of violence in the media).

Instead, use another variable -- namely, the deeper cultural changes that

have occurred over the past several decades.

 

The Next Step: Real Violence

A popular song campaigns joyfully, "Our children are our future,

let them lead the way." Despite the obvious logic of this lyric, the

decline in youth well-being on a variety of indicators leads us to

seriously doubt the value of that future. Regardless of our rhetoric about

the positive steps we intend to take to address our quality of life issues,

the daily lives of many children bring them into recurrent contact with

real violence. Consider these statistics:

 

* The chance that a teenager will die a violent death (by

accident, murder or suicide) increased 12% from 1984 to

1988. (Source: the Center for the Study of Social Policy;

Washington, D.C.)

 

* Of 535 elementary school children living in Chicago's

south side, 26% had seen someone shot and 29% had

seen a stabbing. (Source: Children's Defense Fund.)

 

* One in six youths nationwide between the ages of 10 and

17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot.

(Source: Newsweek/Children's Defense Fund poll.)

 

* Children under the age of 18 are 244% more likely to be

 killed by guns today than they were in 1986. (Source: FBI

Uniform Crime Reports.)

 

Even children who are not exposed to direct violence suffer profoundly.

Fear of crime and violence in our communities has become as debilitating a

social response as any to a world that is presented, realistically or not,

as being on the verge of the apocalypse. The resulting helplessness and

hopelessness that children feel as prisoners in this state of perpetual

hypervigilance is amplified by the fact that they often do not understand

what is happening around them and have no idea what to do to escape.

This fear of crime can also be depicted statistically:

 

* More than half the children and 73% of the adults

questioned in a recent poll said they were afraid of violent

crime against them or a family member. (Source:

Newsweek/Children's Defense Fund poll.)

`

* Thirty-six percent of young people questioned in another

poll say that they are worried about the danger of their

being physically attacked, with 57% of them most worried

about someone carrying a gun. (Source: Harvard School

of Public Health/Joyce Foundation study.)

 

* Thirty-five percent of young people believe that it is very

likely that "my chances of living to a ripe old age will be

cut short because of the threat of my being wiped out from

guns." (Source: Harvard School of Public Health/Joyce

Foundation study.)

 

* When asked what was the single most important reason

they carried a weapon, 41% of the young people polled

said "for protection against possible attacks by other

people." (Source: Harvard School of Public Health/Joyce

Foundation study.)

 

Children living with violence and distrust, whether actual or virtual, are

being denied the consistency, predictability and sense of purpose that they

need to grow into independent, productive adults. In many ways we may be

unwittingly decreasing rather than increasing their ability to deal with

future conflict and violence with our incessant, yet indiscriminate focus

on the subject!

 

From the start, our own paranoia about people who are different from us and

about the dangers lurking around us places physical and emotional

restrictions on our children. After extended periods of living in virtual

war zones, children begin to see life as a series of things happening to

them over which they have no control, rather than as a process over which

they can orchestrate, or at least influence their future. Related to this

failure to establish a strong sense of mastery over their environment are a

variety of critical social dysfunctions that are becoming more and more

familiar to us as we watch our children grow: low levels of motivation as

they perceive that they have no impact on the world; reactionary behavior

patterns coupled with a resistance to behavior management techniques

because they have not developed an understanding of cause and effect; an

inability to see themselves clearly, or to take responsibility for their

actions, assigning blame to "other" rather than "self"; disassociation from

their feelings and desensitization about human life, resulting in

increasing instances of senseless harm and even murder of others, including

other children. The flight path of these children, our children, will

deliver them into a permanent sense of insecurity and inability to deal

with any type of conflict as they grow into adults unless we take immediate

steps to ameliorate the damage.

 

Media Literacy

An obvious enigma appears: how can we reassure our children that the world

is a safe and inviting place for them to explore when the evidence

indicates otherwise? How can we instill in them tolerance and respect for

all humankind when all sides seem to be equally engaged in brutally

deflecting that respect?

 

It seems that a careful balance must be struck between acceptance of

diversity and preparing children for life in an increasingly violent world.

And since mass communication is, and will continue to be a major point of

entry for information about their world, children need to learn to become

critical viewers and understand how the media, newspapers and television

news programming in particular, both report and create what happens in that

world.

 

One key point is this: unbiased reporting is a myth. Information, events,

and discoveries are reported by humans who have applied an interpretation

that reflects their own personal values and beliefs. News reporting is the

product of some organization, usually a for-profit entity, which is devoted

to getting it, interpreting it, and disseminating it while being sponsored

by another for-profit group which has a stake in making sure they get the

largest market share of viewers.

 

With fewer adults around to guide children in making their media choices,

and then helping them interpret what they see and read, many children have

difficulty understanding the difference between reality and the constructed

world of the media. Because the profit motive is a critical factor in

determining both what and how the news is presented, and conflict and

violence are clearly major selling points, children should be taught to ask

some essential questions about the print or broadcast news they choose.

 

Bias

Developing critical viewing skills does not mean distrusting all

elements of a news program or news article automatically. It is crucial,

however, to develop an awareness in children of the degree to which the

media influences how they see themselves and each other, and to help them

understand how the news makers' perceptions and decisions shape their

world. Stereotyping, for example, is particularly dismaying in the mass

media. Since reporters have to condense their information into smaller and

smaller "sound -" or "news-bytes", they usually don't have the time to

fully flesh out the people about whom they are reporting. Yet they must

convey very quickly a clear picture of the appearance and motivation of the

people in the news. In such situations, it is easy to rely on stereotypes.

 

Language

During our rescue mission in Somalia a few years ago, a military

spokesperson said in reference to why some of their soldiers were caught in

an attack, "The organic assets didn't arrive on time," meaning support

troops. In press briefings, civilian casualties are referred to as

"collateral damage." "Ethnic cleansing" has become the standard news

phrase for genocide, and "takeovers" and "kill the competition" are

expressions regularly used in reporting about the corporate world. The

distinctive feature of this language is that humankind is buried in

lifeless, antiseptic jargon. These types of references to war and

conflict describe hostilities and the struggle of opposing forces.

 

On the other hand, isolated random instances of violence or disaster are

frequently described in the most gruesome sensationalized manner, making

the event seem more spectacular, seriously distorting our world view in the

attempt to attract the largest audience share. In extreme cases, of

course, the events surrounding the media coverage become the stories

themselves, as in the 1994 O.J. Simpson story, and the ensuing mayhem

further obfuscates any real understanding of the original ordeal.

 

Acceleration of News

Two hundred years ago it took weeks to learn that a peace treaty

had been signed, a president had died, or another territory had been added

to our country. Today, the press are often the first on the scene, and we

are there with them to greet the soldiers through the magic of

instantaneous broadcasts. These reporters, however, rarely know the

language or culture of the country from which they are broadcasting. Yet

because of the immediacy of their presence they become direct participants

in the conflict. Leaders often communicate to one another through their

televised speeches, and decisions are made based not on mediation and

negotiation, but on what thecontent of the CNN broadcast is on a particular

day.

 

The prominent position that we have willingly given the news media in our

lives allows our children to read, see and hear much more than they ever

have before. They now have instant and repeated access to sounds and

images of starving orphans in Somalia, local scenes of domestic and

community violence, and everything in between. Teaching children to be

media literate helps them sort out truth from fiction and fact

from opinion, giving them a healthy respect for the world without being

misled into thinking that everyone they see is a potential danger to their

body and soul.

 

Responding to Kids' Concerns

On almost any day of the year there are some corners of our cities, towns

and neighborhoods where hatred, conflict and war are being waged. Whether

they are active participants or not, our children are never exempt from the

blight of these conflicts. Everything that creates equilibrium in a

child's life is disrupted, including mental and physical health. And

studies have shown that if children learn that hatred and conflict are the

only options, those behaviors become normalized to them, the negative input

becoming ingrained. These children will be more than likely to perpetuate

that course of action into their adult lives, passing it on to subsequent

generations.

 

These children can tell us a great deal about the dynamics of injury and

danger. But the impact of what children can tell us depends on what we as

adults are prepared to hear. How can we best respond to children's

concerns? And what do we do with this information?

 

Listening

Conflict and violence are on the minds of even our youngest

children. We must listen to them as they express these concern to us, and

take them seriously. If we remain silent or ignore their fears and refuse

to engage in dialog with them about the issues, the message we deliver to

them is that neither they nor their anxieties are important to us.

Instead, respect them by letting them know how committed you are to their

safety.

 

Reassure them about that which they can be reassured. One young child

during the Gulf War thought that the Iraqis were going to bomb his school.

More recently, another child began having nightmares about a serial killer

she saw captured on a television news broadcast. In these cases, simple

and straightforward information can be comforting.

 

Above all, be honest about your own apprehensions. It is far more

frightening for children to feel that their care givers are hiding

something from them or are too scared to talk than to hear them express

their own uneasiness.

 

Engaging

Today's children feel that they are inheriting a dangerous world.

They are angry at us for the increases in racism, hatred, conflict,

violence; for having allowed the decay to happen; for tragically abandoning

them to their dire standing as children without a childhood. But hatred,

conflict and violence aren't just things that happen to people. They are

problems caused by people. If either through our example or our reluctance

to address the issues we allow our children to remain ignorant about each

other's differences, we are contributing to the problems. A much more

proactive response is to help our children convert these problems into

opportunities to meet the challenges of our social ills. At a very early

age, children can write to their political leaders and newspapers to

express their views. They can communicate their feelings through art,

poetry, dance, or song, and exhibit them to have their feelings

acknowledged publicly. As they grow older, they can conduct research to

gather information that helps them understand the issues, inform and

educate their peers, and mobilize them to further action. They can

participate in humanitarian efforts, advocate on behalf of children and

provide inspiration for others to do the same.

 

A person would have to be unconscious not to recognize the overwhelming

presence of violence and hatred in every aspect of our lives today. Any

vision of a future without it is impossible to achieve if our children have

been raised to be passive consumers of violence, racial and gender bias and

militarism in their toys, books, games and media. Children learn how to be

adults from us. Whether we show by example, or "approve" violence,

stereotyping and other forms of brutality by allowing our children to watch

certain programs or play with certain toys, we can just as easily lead them

down a better, brighter path.

 

We are all concerned with what our children encounter in today's world, and

what its effects might be on subsequent generations. It is time we

involve them in helping create the solutions, despite the unknowns and the

complexity of our political and social systems. If each of us brings even

a fraction of our intellectual, professional and moral resources to bear on

the issues of violence and conflict, listen to our children about their

concerns and fears, and guide them toward effective action, we might have a

shot at securing a better future for them and for ourselves.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

In the current social climate, where images of violence and aggression

bombard children every day, it is not a good idea to ban war play.

Children are often attracted to what they are forbidden anyway, and there

is a danger in making a child feel guilty about having to sneak access to

what is popular. But simply remaining mute, creating an "anything goes"

atmosphere, does not contribute to a child's healthy development either.

Here are some tips to consider when making your choices about these issues

with your children:

 

War Toys

* Know what the influences are on your children. What television programs

do they watch? What is the content of the programming? What behavior have

they picked up from the programming to use in interactions with their

peers?

 

* Visit the toy store in advance of taking your children there and

establish some structure for the childrens' subsequent visit. This is much

easier than setting a child free, a child who has been primed to consume

through television and other media, awash in a sea of coveted objects.

 

* Read the descriptions on the packages of toys at the store.

* Help your children to evaluate their toys. If the toy doesn't look

exactly like the advertisement, if it doesn't do what it did on television,

or if it falls apart because it is cheaply made, use these occasions as a

basis to discuss what they have learned from the experiences.

 

* Understand all the dangers inherent in playing with toy guns and stop

giving them to your children. They may still use a stick or other object

as a gun, but buying them tells them that you think guns are okay and

should be used as a way to solve conflicts.

 

* Buy as few single-purpose war toys as possible, choosing the most

open-ended designs whose functions are not fully defined by their

appearance, the images on the package, or the television program that

advertises it.

 

* Monitor the amount of time your children are involved in war play. They

might need some help extricating themselves from that into other compelling

types of play.

 

* Help your children learn to use playthings in new ways. Try making

suggestions which help your children see that there are more possibilities

for a toy than dictated by the manufacturer.

 

* Encourage your children to make their own toys and props. Deciding what

to make, how to construct them, and then actually producing them offers

opportunities for complex, critical thinking, problem solving, and a

feeling of accomplishment. When children make their own toys, they reclaim

ownership of their play as their ideas become part of the process.

 

* Go public with your protests. Public opinion forced G.I. Joe off the

shelves during the Vietnam War, and more recently convinced a

Massachusetts-based toy retailer to burn its fake weapons, producing enough

electricity to light forty-eight homes for a month. Political and

community action works. Arrange a meeting with the manager of your local

toy store and ask them not to carry war toys. Hold a public hearing on war

toys and cartoons. Write letters of protest to local television stations

that air violent cartoons. Put on an alternative toy fair.

 

* Change the rules of war games to make them cooperative.

 

* As a family, learn to play non-violent games that require cooperation

among players.

 

* Make your home a "violence free" zone and ask others not to bring war

toys into your home.

 

* Collect war toys from willing children in your neighborhood and give

them a public burial with an appropriate eulogy.

 

* Inform your childrens' teachers about your disapproval of the presence

of war toys and your support of a weapons- and violence-free zone at the

school. Spearhead a fundraising drive to stock the zone with non-violent

and cooperative games and toys.

 

* Talk to your children about their fears and anxieties rather than simply

arming them with toy weapons.

 

Video Games

* Publishers and media production companies take years to develop most

learning materials. Schools take their time, also, to evaluate and adopt

new texts. Many parents and teachers, however, race to get the latest

games for their children with only a cursory knowledge of their contents.

Go slowly in choosing what video games your children play.

 

* Play the games yourself. If you take an active role in previewing them,

you will get to know the games and build the knowledge base to argue

intelligently with your child about your decisions.

 

* Don't ban video games if your child is already playing them on a regular

basis. Find the moral in the madness instead. Discuss with them the

context of any game your children want to play. Besides bringing up the

obvious use of violence, point out the more subtle messages the game is

communicating such as racism, sexism and other types of discrimination.

* Purchase or rent games that require two or more players, and encourage

your child to invite others over to play the games with him.

 

Television

* Guide what your children watch on television and limit their viewing

time. Although this is an old recommendation, it is more easily

accomplished now with the help of a recent invention: an electronic lock

that permits parents to preset which programs, channels, and times they

want to make available to their children. In addition to limiting their

children's viewing options, the use of this lock reinforces parental

authority because it operates even when the parents are not home.

 

* Plan your children's viewing times with them. Giving them choices

within certain guidelines, use a TV guide or newspaper listing to help the

children decide in advance which shows to see for the week. And then turn

the television off when those shows are over.

 

* Watch television with your children. If you don't know about the

material to which they are exposed, you will be ill-equipped to make

decisions about which programs should be off-limits to them.

* Offer alternatives to watching television. Use a VCR and good

children's movies, or substitute open-ended activities that offer

opportunities to be active and creative.

 

* Teach your children to be "stereotype detectives:" have them find

television characters who depict racial, ethnic or gender stereotypes and

talk to them about how better those characters might have been portrayed.

 

* Your consumer dollar can be a strong force against bad programming.

Boycott products produced by sponsors of objectionable programs, and let

the company, your local station and your local newspaper know that you are

doing it and why.

 

* It took twenty-five years to get the Children's Television Act (which

requires television stations to provide educational viewing choices for

children) on the law books, but it won't be enforced unless we hold

television stations accountable to meet the mandate. Lobbying works best

on the local level. "A station doesn't want to look like Godzilla in its

own community," says Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children's

television. Remind your local stations that failure to do so could result

in the stations losing their licenses. If you are uncertain about the

stations' plans andactivities in this regard, ask to see the public file

that the law requires them to maintain containing the information.

 

* Conversely, express your thanks to networks, sponsors and local

stations, both privately and publicly, for showing programs that support

your values and viewpoints.

 

* Work with your local stations to produce and offer programs and services

designed to support children and families -- quality children's shows from

around the world, programs produced by children themselves, and programs

that are designed to support parents in their efforts to raise healthy and

happy children.

 

* If you are a doctor, dentist or other medical professional who's office

has a waiting room, post a sign stating that your office is a

"television-free zone," and provide other options to keeping your patients

and clients engaged while they wait. Part of the public health approach

should be to promote child care alternatives to the electronic babysitter.

 

* Record objectionable programs on your VCR and send them to the Federal

Communications Commission with a letter identifying the city and state from

which the broadcast aired, the call letters of the station, and the reasons

you object to it. Address your tapes and letters to: Complaints and

Investigative Branch, Enforcement Division, Federal Communications

Commission, 2025 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20554.

 

Media Literacy

* The National Telemedia Council states that it's not what you watch on

television, but how you watch it. Help your children analyze all of the

programs they watch. Discuss with them how images and content form

impressions.

 

* Have your children compare newspaper stories and news broadcasts about

active acts of violence with television dramas about violence. Ask them to

tell you how they think real life acts of violence differ from those

depicted on television.

 

* Give your children journals and ask them to jot down a note about every

reference to aggression in the media that they encounter during a week's

time, real or fictitious. Have them include not only television and

newspaper accounts, but images and stories from magazines, billboards,

music, advertisements for toys, posters, etc. Not only will this give you

a platform from which to begin a serious dialog about aggression and

violence, but your understanding will increase about the sheer quantity of

aggressive messages to which they are exposed on a daily basis.

 

* Hang a world map somewhere in your home. This will give your children a

sense of distance from zones of war and conflict while enabling you to talk

about different parts of the world as you point them out.

 

* Have your children cut out news stories about several ethnic or racial

groups for one month. Give them folders to keep their stories separate

according to group. At the end of the month, review the contents of the

folders with them. Are the images of blacks in the news mostly negative?

How many references are there to Hispanics? Native Americans? Asians?

Are the positive articles of Asians about academic success? Are the

positive articles about blacks about athletics? Take this opportunity to

talk to your children about negative effects of stereotyping, using news

bias as an example.

 

* Make sure your children understand these five important ideas about

television, explained in "Children and Television," Media&Values No. 52-53,

Fall/Winter 1991:

 

1. We help create TV as we watch it.

2. TV's world is made up.

3. TV teaches us that some people and ideas are more important than others.

4. TV keeps doing the same things over and over again.

5. TV is in business to make money.

 

Responding to Your Children

* Translate large and confusing events into smaller concrete terms for

your younger children, and give only as much detail as the child asks for.

Lengthy explanations of political or economic forces won't help your child

understand conflict and violence, but short answers in age appropriate

language will.

 

* Ask you child's teacher for help by encouraging the children to talk

about events in the news that might be scary. Children feel better when

they hear that the reactions of their peers mirror their own, and the group

discussion about an event might lead to some concrete action on the part of

the children.

 

* When listening to your children, consider the following tips:

1. Do not let other noise or activity distract you. Pay attention to the

verbal and non-verbal cues your children are expressing.

2. Look for the important theme that the children are communicating to

you. It may be hidden with other issues.

3. Wait before you respond, making sure the children have expressed what

they need to say about their feelings.

4. Paraphrase what you heard from the child, and ask if that's what they

are saying to you.

5. Be ready to respond to them, even if it's only to say that you don't

have the answers.

6. Share your feelings and concerns with them in age appropriate terms.

Take time to explain. And give them confirmation for having talked to you.

 

NOTE: The text above is from the recent book, Teaching Peace: How to Raise Children to Live in Harmony -- Without Fear, Without Prejudice, Without Violence_ by Jan Arnow (Perigee/Berkley, © 1995 Jan Arnow, ISBN #0-399-52155-0, $12.00). In each chapter there are additional charts, quotes and sidebar sections that have not been uploaded. If you are interested in seeing these additions, please contact the author directly (email: jarnow@iglou.com); (snail mail: 2025 Maryland Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40205); (telephone: 502-454-0607); or buy the book! 

This is copywritten material. Please do not distribute without the author's permission.

You May Read The Entire Book Online

"Teaching Peace"

Chapters 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - Introduction - Bibliography

 

Go to Chapter 2.

 

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