This isn’t much of a news article, but I’ll put it in anyway. One News Now has a short piece regarding results of a recent study of children and violence:
University researchers for the U.S. Justice Department recently found that more than 60 percent of children have been exposed to violence. Other results show that nearly half of the children surveyed said they had been assaulted in the past year, and for students between 14 and 17, one in five personally saw a shooting.
The shooting thing is somewhat disturbing, I have to admit. It’s unfortunate to have generations of people apparently growing up with the idea that guns are the only way to solve problems.
The survey’s authors defined exposure to violence as being a victim, or having witnessed violence, or learning about violence against a relative, friend, or hearing about a threat to their school or home.
James Allen Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University considers this a poor definition. “What concerns me when you hear numbers like this is that in their attempt to be inclusive, which is commendable, the definition of violence becomes so broad that the results lack real meaning,” he said. “If you broaden the definition of violence so much, then most people will be included.”
I don’t think rumour and gossip should count as exposure if the child never witnessed or experienced any of what’s being talked about. I know kids might feel unduly worried when they hear about violent events, but I don’t think that should be lumped in with personal experience because anyone who hears or reads about violence is going to feel some of that regardless. Nobody exists in a vacuum. Violence is happening, and people are hearing about it all the time. It’s an inescapable reality in this world.
I wonder how much of their results are the result of specific phrasing of questions. If they started with the intent to prove kids are in serious trouble they could have built the questions in just such a way as to get the answers they wanted.
The results were based on telephone interviews of 4,549 kids and adolescents aged 17 and younger between January and May of 2008. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence was sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, with help from the Centers for Disease Control.
I presume there was some parental permission required to participate? Considering kids were getting asked about sex and abuse and violence to their person, I really hope so. Anyway, back to One News Now:
While the study did not focus on the media, Melissa Henson of the Parents Television Council argues that many television shows contribute to the problem.
“These days,” she says, “you have programs like CSI where you can actually watch the bullet hit the body and come out the back, blood spatters, and they’re very gory and realistic.”
Which leads me to my post title. Why would any sane parent let their kids watch that? Mind you, my parents let me stay up to watch Dallas, but I didn’t understand half of what was going on anyway and often fell asleep before it was over.
Such graphic depictions, she says, often result — particularly for children — in confusion.
“I think for a child it’s especially problematic because, to a certain stage, kids in their development are unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality,” Henson explains. “So when a child sees someone being shot or murdered on television, then it is exactly the same as seeing someone shot or murdered in real life.”
There’s some truth to that, I’ll grant her. There have been studies done that illustrate how kids react to events on a television and at young enough ages, they can think what’s happening on TV is actually happening live and interactively. I know I used to jump around hoping Miss Fran would see me in her magic mirror. Of course she never actually did. Older kids do tend to have trouble distinguishing real events from fictional ones, but again, why would any kids under the age of 9 be watching gore? Where are their parents at that point? Parents ought to have power over the television and guide what kids watch, surely? But I suppose some never bother to do that…
The survey also revealed that almost one in ten children saw a family member assault another in the past 12 months. Thirteen percent said they had been physically bullied in the past year.
Another result reported was 57% of kids admitting to being assaulted. The PDF lists the number at 46.3%, and 10.2% of kids surveyed claimed an injury occurred. I wonder if the survey had anything in the way of gauging severity levels, though. There’s a difference between a bit of shoving on the playground and getting one’s teeth knocked out and ribs broken.
Did they lump verbal assault in with the physical? In terms of overall totals, yes. But they have a graph in the file which includes child maltreatment and the number is surprisingly low (10.2%) so I wonder how well the kids understood the questions. Or maybe the majority of emotional abuse fell under bullying instead:
About 1 in 5 children (19.7 percent) reported having been teased or emotionally bullied in the previous year and nearly 3 in 10 reported having been teased or emotionally bullied in their lifetimes. Teasing or emotional bullying followed a similar pattern to physical bullying among age groups, rising to reach a peak among 6- to 9-year-olds, nearly one-third of whom (30.4 percent) reported having been teased in the past year and then falling steadily thereafter.
I don’t have any solutions, obviously. Ideally kids would be getting better education and some experience in handling difficult social situations in ways that don’t lead to violence related reactions. Start it at a young enough age, train them in how to deal with anger constructively, teach them and help them understand that it’s okay to mad but never okay to hurt people. Parents and other role models need to be thinking about what they do and say, too, because it’s in a child’s nature to copy; it helps the learning process and if they wind up surrounded by people who don’t deal with problems sensibly, they’re unlikely to figure out how to do that on their own.