|VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA|
depictions of violence on film and television on the increase? Center
for Media and Public Affairs President Robert Lichter, Washington Post
columnist E.J. Dionne and director Rupert Wainwright take your questions.
Goldstein of Charlottesville, VA asks:
I feel that not enough emphasis is being given to the responsibility of parents in mediating the content of their children's experience. Shouldn't parents, and not Hollywood, decide what their children do and do not see?
Dear Mr. Goldstein:
It's entirely true that parents have the major responsibility, as you nicely put it, of "mediating the content of their children's experience." (It's one reason why I think the V-Chip is not the terrible idea some think it is.)
But families are not hermetically sealed spaces. Children are not only influenced at home, but also by the broader culture. They get messages from that culture all the time about family life, work, personal responsibility, tolerance and generosity. We argue about the culture in part because we worry about the broader messages it sends. For myself, I find some of those messages positive (about work and tolerance, for example) and some not so positive (about violence and a "whoever dies with the most toys wins" sort of materialism). We're now having a typically American, democratic (that's with a small-d) argument the culture and its messages.
Also, we don't pay enough attention to the fact that families -- because of the pressures on both parents to work so much outside the home -- seem to lack the time most would like to have to teach and help their kids, and do the "mediating" work you describe. It's one reason why the popular culture looms larger as an issue than most us (Including, I suspect, even the markers of popular culture) think it should.
One positive finding in the research literature is that parental mediation mitigates the negative effects of media violence. This refers not only to keeping children away from highly violent fare, but also to explaining the difference between fantasy and real world violence, warning children that such behavior is inappropriate and should not be copied, etc. Much recent activism and legislation has been directed toward providing parents with better tools to enforce whatever viewing standards they find appropriate for their own children, e.g., v-chips and content-based ratings systems.
I think this is a very reasonable question and, by and large, my answer would be yes. However, as a parent I am also aware that it is not realistic for parents to censor what their children see on television 24 hours a day. I believe it is completely reasonable to have a guideline as to the content of the programs concerning nudity, sexual situations, adult language, violence -- lethal and non-lethal -- and other important aspects of the programming. In this day and age it is almost impossible for even two parents to be able to control every waking minute of their children's experience.
It is very interesting to see, however, that the freedom of speech debate seems to be totally non-controversial regarding the Internet as opposed to television. Children can easily access extraordinarily graphic images on any computer connected to any ISP -- images that even a libertarian such as myself would not feel comfortable seeing on television, and yet television and the Internet are rapidly evolving into a very similar medium of information, sharing and entertainment.