Studies have found a causal correlation between exposure to violent themes in the media and violent behavior. I would contest, however, that we are taught the art of being violent from a very young age and everyone seems to think that this is completely normal.
Before the age of three, children can identify toys and behavior that are typical to boys or girls.
Boys are expected to be rough and tumble from the moment that they can crawl. I work in childcare and usually hear from parents that their child is just “all boy,” which usually translates into, “he likes to hit other children for fun and can’t sit still for more than a minute and a half.”
Girls, on the other hand, are expected to be dainty and tiny and sit and color pretty pictures all day. It’s a rare occasion that we find girls trying to solve problems with their fists. This can change in adolescence, but they are taught that it’s not so lady-like to throw a right hook when someone pisses you off.
And when children deviate from these so-called norms, we automatically think that something is wrong with them and that they need to go through counseling to get over their “gender confusion.”
That’s why, when boys act out physically, especially in the younger years, we don’t think anything of it. He’s just being a boy.
Now hear me on this: I am not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that if boys act out when they’re younger they will grow up to be cold-blooded killers. I think, instead, that as adults we have become so immune to the violence that we see every day that when our children exhibit that kind of behavior, we fail to see it as a problem. When little boys make sticks into guns and start pretending to shoot people, we brush it off and pretend like it’s not a big deal.
Except that in the case of some of these boys, those sticks could turn into real firearms soon enough.
Again, just to reiterate, I am not saying that all rough and tumble boys will grow up to shoot people, but I am saying that in a tiny percentage of cases, such as James Holmes and Adam Lanza, they will. Could the violence they committed later in life been diminished if they hadn’t been exposed to that kind of behavior earlier in life?
Children’s TV programs and movies, including the classics that we grew up with, have never lacked adult themes. Daffy Duck is consistently taking shotgun blasts from Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote is constantly trying to blast Road Runner with TNT and hello, have you watched the animated Alice in Wonderland? The problem with these themes being geared towards younger generations is that kids lack the cognizance to differentiate between education and entertainment. They don’t understand the process of “acting;” they truly think that Alice fell down the rabbit hole.
When kids see people getting shot at on screen, they fail to see why it’s a big deal if it happens in the “real world.”
So, no, I have no problem believing that violent themes in the media lead to violent behavior. Through violence-saturated media, we are being taught from a young age what to expect out of society.
Suddenly, news headlines look a little less sad. Murder happens in the movies, so why shouldn’t it happen in the neighborhood?
That being said, I am a Disney fanatic. I grew up on the greats and love watching animated films and TV programs with the kids under my care. But Toto, we’re not in the land of princesses anymore. Now, everything’s getting blown up and everyone’s getting shot at and we give it a G rating.
And yes, to me that is a problem.
I hate that I have to tell kids daily that pretending to shoot a gun is not appropriate school behavior.
I hate that I grew up right next to Columbine High School, where I pass by a memorial reminding me of the violence committed there.
I hate that kids feel like they have to ask me what would happen if a shooter was in the building.
I hate that, when I walk out of a movie, all too often I hear people saying, “It was fine, but I wish the shooting sequences were more lifelike.”
However, I am not under the erroneous impression that anything about violence in the media is going to change — with improved animation techniques, I would expect it to get even worse. I’m just saying that I won’t be surprised when we see violent behavior, especially in youth, to get worse as well. Maybe not the most optimistic approach, but definitely the most realistic.
Brittany Jordan is a junior psychology major. Feedback of all varieties can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.