Violence as entertainment is destroying our children


AS CONGRESS puts the finishing touches on the juvenile justice bill, it is time to ask ourselves: Who is teaching our kids to kill?

In the United States, per capita aggravated assaults are up almost sixfold since 1957.

I sat beside U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher on "Meet the Press" after the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo. He was asked if he could do a report on the link between media violence and violence in our kids.

"Sure, I can do another surgeon general's report," he said, "but why don't we start by reading the 1972 surgeon general's report?" The same surgeon general who issued the famous report on the link between tobacco and cancer also issued a report on the link between media violence and violence in our society. Everyone knows about the cancer report, but no one knows about the media report. Why?

For decades, if you asked tobacco executives about the link between their product and cancer, they lied. If you ask media executives about the link between their product and violent crime, they will do exactly the same thing -- and they control the public airwaves.

Conclusive studies

Here is what they don't want you to know: A review of almost 1,000 studies, presented to the American College of Forensic Psychiatry last year, found that all but 18 demonstrated that screen violence leads to real violence, and 12 of those 18 were funded by the television industry.

In 1992, the American Psychological Association concluded that 40 years of research on the link between TV violence and real-life violence has been ignored, stating that the "scientific debate is over" and calling for federal policy to protect society.

Sure, not every kid who partakes of violent TV shows, movies or video games will become a violent criminal. But can't we do a better job with the next generation?

We must protect our children. Listen to the real media critics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says: "Children don't naturally kill. It is a learned skill. And they learn it . . . most pervasively, from violence as entertainment in television, the movies and interactive video games."

Officials with the violence industry claim that they are driven by the market: "People buy it, so we sell it." That is drug dealer logic.

Regulating the industry

Congress must provide what Americans have been pleading for: regulation to restrict the marketing of violence to children. Forget the Federal Communications Commission. It is a toothless watchdog, made up mostly of people with past associations with the electronic media. It is like having tobacco farmers in charge of the Food and Drug Administration.

In a recent Associated Press poll, many Americans thought more gun laws were the best way to deal with school violence, but more than twice that many believed that restricting children's access to television and movie violence was the best way to end school violence.

There will be more Littletons; the children are already trained. Every day, more and more of them are learning to kill and learning to like it.

David Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is co-author of "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: a Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence" (Crown Publishing, 1999). He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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