Children need protection from violence

Posted by Samantha on May 16, 2011 in Thought for the day |
Children will watch anything, and when a broadcaster uses crime and violence and other shoddy devices to monopolize a child’s attention, it’s worse than taking candy from a baby. It is taking precious time from the process of growing up.
 Newton N. Minow, American lawyer (b. 1926)


I’ve been noticing something strange happening in parental responses to violence lately.  One part of this is probably best epitomized by the following story: 

A bunch of Moms and a couple of Dads were standing around watching their boys (and one girl) playing outdoors.  Some of the boys had picked up sticks and were swinging them around play-fighting.  The inevitable happened and one boy’s arm got scratched.

In dived the adults.

Apologies from one boy to the other were extracted as his mother applied a good dose of anger and shame to the offending party.  The injured party had forgotten it had been a game and was distraught.  All eyes were on the Moms concerned.  One of the other Moms (I’ll admit that it was me) said something along the lines of “Well, boys DO play with sticks”.  Another Mom replied “Well they shouldn’t”.

There’s been a lot of research done on the value and purpose of children’s play.  We don’t have all the answers but we know that play is children’s work. 

We know that it is through horse-play that children learn where the lines of engagement are drawn.  They learn to recognise when someone is actually being hurt and when they need to back off.  We know that children can tell where that line is much better than adults can. 

Children learn much else besides this from boisterous play – physical mastery, emotional and physical resilience, lessons about dominance and hierarchy and how to get on with others.  They do however, need to be allowed to practice rough and tumble play to learn the lessons it contains.

Sadly it seems that many parents – and teachers – have forgotten that this type of play is a normal and important part of childhood – especially boys’ childhoods.  Did you hear about the schools (yes, multiple schools) in Ireland that banned running in the playground?  That’s health and safety gone crazy.  That does not protect our children.  But it does mean that adults don’t have to deal with the tears and upset of an injured child.

So, on the one hand, I see an increasing tendency to cast normal children’s play as dangerous and aggressive and to disallow it.  And yet I observe a disturbing increase in children’s exposure to media aggression and violence which parents seem to be accepting. 

Again, the research is clear.  Exposure to media violence leads to increased aggression in children.  Screen time is also clearly linked with ADD / ADHD. 

And yet, I hear of and see children who are allowed unsupervised access to television and computers where they are regularly exposed to programming that is shockingly violent to my eyes. 

I recently banned the Beast Quest books from my seven-year old sons reading list.  An endless succession of fight descriptions – complete with sentences such as “Blood spattered the arena floor, and Arcta howled in agony” – fill these books’ pages.  This is not suitable reading material for 7 – 9 year olds in my opinion.

While at the cinema recently, watching a PG movie (not our first choice which was sold out), I had to take my daughter onto my knee and could feel her whole body shake with terror as she fought between her desire to watch the movie and stay safely hidden in my lap.  I regretted not leaving the cinema.  On that occasion I gave precedence to her older brother, as well as my fear of a potential melt-down if we left part way through.  Plus I thought it might be better to wait to the end where at least I could be sure good would eventually triumph. 

Next time I will be better prepared and I will not sacrifice my children’s hearts and minds to this unnecessary and frightening violence. 

With this steady diet of fighting as entertainment, not to mention the smart-arse attitudes that litter children’s programming, it’s not difficult to guess where those “tween” and teen behaviours that parents and teachers find so offensive are coming from. 

Parents point to the schools; schools point to the parents. 

Let us all instead point the finger where it belongs: at the unscrupulous marketers and broadcasters who care only for profit and our children’s character’s be damned.

Turn off the television.  Your children will cope.


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