Part I: The Problem.
In the aftermath of the Columbine school shootings, parents were eager to find someone or something to take the blame for the tragedy. We as Americans are a culture that has to be able to control the outcome of our everyday lives. When something happens that catches us off guard, we get frightened and jump to conclusions. With no closure in sight from the columbine shootings, parents across the country wanted answers. Instead of evaluating their own parenting, people began to say that video games, movie and television were the problem. The idea was that by eliminating the violence on TV and that will stop kids from being violent. The news media, fearing for its ratings took this idea and ran with it doing in depth stories and all types of special reports.
The goal of this newsletter is not to place blame on anyone, but to bring to the realization that the only way to help our youth is to not blame outside factors for behavior but approach the problem directly, in the home, face to face with the child.
Columbine: The tragedy
On a sunny spring day in April 1999, a suburban high school in Jefferson County, Colorado, found itself under attack by two of its own. In less than fifteen minutes of the first-lunch period on that Tuesday, two student gunmen killed 13 and wounded 21 before they turned the guns on themselves in the most devastating school shooting in U.S. history. Columbine High School is one of three in the unincorporated southeast portion of Jefferson County. The county itself lies on the west side of the Denver metropolitan area and is the most populated county in the state. The large unincorporated region along the county’s southern plains and foothills has a population of nearly 100,000 residents – 1,945 of who attended Columbine High School.
The two student gunmen were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Their plans for attacking the school, recovered by investigators after the tragedy had taken place, evolved over one year’s time. In those plans, Klebold and Harris outlined a mission to kill as many students and faculty as possible. They would set off destructive bombs inside the school and then shoot any survivors trying to run out. Bombs inside their cars would explode later, killing law enforcement, fire or medical personnel responding to the scene.There are indications that their initial plan was for the Columbine High School attack to occur on Monday, April 19. While there was no specific reference made in their writings to this date being an important anniversary, it must be noted that April 19, 1999 was the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the sixth anniversary of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.
However, the Columbine tragedy occurred on April 20, perhaps due to unfinished preparations on the part of the killers. Or perhaps there is a connection with the history of this date. To begin with, 4/20 carries the same numerals as 420, the California criminal code for possession of marijuana. Due to the significance of these numbers in popular drug culture, some students were absent from school that day in recognition of what they termed national marijuana day. April 20, 1999, also marked the 110th anniversary of Adolph Hitler’s birth.
It is also critical to note that when many of the Columbine students heard what sounded like popguns coming from outside the cafeteria during the first lunch period, they thought that senior prank day had come. School-wide pranks initiated by graduating seniors are a tradition throughout the United States, and up to that point Columbine’s seniors, ready to graduate in just four weeks, had not participated in any such activity. It seemed right to students who heard the first few shots that, as it was toward the end of the school year, prank day was finally upon them.
But it wasn’t a prank. Not when two hate-filled students, heavily armed with firearms and bombs, chose April 20, 1999, as the day to attack and kill students and faculty at their school.
Violence in the Media:
Turn on any television in the United States and before long images of terror and ghastly acts of murder and war are shown. The average adult sees this and interprets what they see. An adult can see the pain and suffering of victims; they can see the tragic losses suffered by all those associated with the events. However, if a child sees these things, most of them only see the colorful explosions and intriguing mayhem that to them is all too surreal and exciting. Negative images in the media are having a profound effect on our youth today. It is causing them to become desensitized to the pain and suffering of others; it’s causing them to become fearful of victimization from the outside world; and it’s causing our youth to act out aggressively and harmfully to others around them.
The children today are our leaders for tomorrow. Think for a moment of the qualities of a leader. It is someone who is fair and just, someone who is dominant but not overbearing, and most of all it is a person who is empathetic to the needs of others. The constant violence being shown today to the youth culture is causing widespread apathy (“What Do”). Children see a violent act in real life, for example a shooting, and immediately associate it with a similar violent act from television. They assume they the injured person will be fine and that the potentially fatal wounded will just heal up. What they don’t see on TV is the months or even years of agony the person will go through recovering, of course that’s if they live. They don’t see pain and therefore don’t fear getting hurt or hurting others. Conversely, not all children react so destructively. Some end up causing more damage to themselves instead of others.
Imagine an impressionable youngster who watches a lot of TV. He or she just watches whatever is on or whatever seems interesting. His or her parents don’t pay close attention to what is being viewed on a daily basis. This child will view hundreds of acts of violence weekly, without regulation or interpretation from its parents. Being constantly subjected to violence can drive a young person to think that everything outside their home is “out to get them.” They become fearful of everyone around them, feeling nothing but paranoia at all times. Things like “the boogie man” and other monsters become all too real. Since the parents were not involved in the child’s media consumption, the messages are not properly received and therefore are misshapen in the adolescent mind. George Gerbner agrees with these ideas stating, “Surveys indicate that long-term regular exposure to violence-laden television tends to make an independent contribution to the feeling of living in a mean and gloomy world.” As if fear of victimization and the desensitization to pain and suffering weren’t bad enough, there is a worst-case scenario; it is when children carry out the violent acts seen on TV in real life.
The effects of aggressive teens are all around us. Between shootings, rape and young people murdering each other it can be wearisome to venture out of the house. What are the contributing factors to the delinquency of minors? At what point does the line between right and wrong become so blurred that kids go completely against social norms? It begins in the home, where parents need to do a better job of communicating with their children. Television gives a child a message, whether it is good or bad. The child then has to make an informed decision of whether or not to accept the idea as truth. Obviously this young person doesn’t have the capabilities to stop what they are doing and research the issue at hand, so it becomes the job of the mother or father to sit with the child and explain why certain things happen and what the effects are. Just to assume that a child will understand the deeper meaning of a cartoon is ludicrous. TV is like a stranger in your house, teaching kids bad habits (Beckman 2). There are many bad effects of violence on people, but the questions must be asked; is there a positive side to all the madness?
Indeed there is a “not so bad” side to violence in media today. In fact violence has been a part of our history for thousands of years. Fairy tales and Roman mythology, for example, have violent acts rooted deeply in most of their stories (Gerbner 14). These stories have morals and happy endings where everyone lives happily ever after. They were passed on to children by their parents who could cut out the gory details and get to the underlying point embedded in the story to teach children a life lesson; lessons about how to be righteous and true to oneself. Violence can also serve as a tool to teach our kids about the horrible tragedies suffered from chaos like war and genocide. Seeing the graphic images of events like the holocaust and the events of September 11th give children a glimpse into how precious human life really is, especially their own. However, there is a significant difference between the positive and negatives sides of violence in the media. With the negative violence completely outweighing the positive violence, the focus remains on controlling the media consumption of children.
Part II: The beginning to a solution.
Resource Officers: Presence in schools.
To increases safety in schools today many schools have utilized the help of local police agencies by placing officers in schools. These men and women are called School Resource Officers. These officers are in schools to help reduce the amount of violence in schools today. The National Association of School Resource Officers (N.A.S.R.O.) is the first and only non-profit training organization made up of contact officers currently assigned to a school community. They are also the largest training organization for school based police and district personnel in the Nation.
The School Resource Officers are actively involved in their daily activities during the school day. Many officers serve as mentors and counselors, where they help to ease the tension that people may have about school violence. The mission of the N.A.S.R.O. is to break down the barriers between law enforcement and youth by establishing better communication about the legal system. All N.A.S.R.O. instructors are current School Resource Officers and certified law enforcement instructors experienced in training school based police officers. N.A.S.R.O. is recognized as the leading training institution, and certification program for school based contact police programs all over the world.
NA.S.R.O. Sponsors an annual training conference each summer as well as regional training, which is available throughout the United States and Canada. Membership is open to school based police and school administration. A qualification of a School Resource Officer is to be able to mediate between students and be able to act in any situation that may come up. A Resource Officer acts as a mentor for both students and teachers to provide information at all times.
Moreover N.A.S.R.O. is dedicated to the children of America. The School Resource Officers promote a better understanding of our laws, why they were enacted, and their benefits. They provide a visible and positive image for law enforcement. They serve as a confidential source of counseling to students concerning problems they face. They bring expertise into schools that will help young people make more positive choices in their lives. They also work to protect the school environment and to maintain an atmosphere where teachers fell safe to teach and students feel safe enough to learn.
Even with the officers in the schools this doesn’t mean that violence will necessarily stop, because they can only do so much. To have a better sense of safety in schools parents, teachers, and the community need to be able to get actively involved to help keep schools safe.
The Violence-Chip: A tool for the home.
There are many different types of systems that can protect your child against television violence. The Violence Chip came about due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The V-Chip is installed in all television sets and it can be programmed to edit bad language, violence, or just about anything that a parent does not want their child watching. And certain television shows can be blocked from primetime sitcoms to R mated films.
Television Parental Guidelines give parents a little hint about what is on programs that their children may be watching. TVY are programs, like Winnie the Pooh, that children of all ages can watch. TVY7 are programs that are for children that are over the age of seven for example, Barney. There may be mild acts of violence that may be comical or physical in these types of television shows.
The other types of television guidelines are meant for all ages. TVG is meant for a general audience, for example Rugrats. There is little to no violence, no explicit language, and very little sexual scenes or language. TVPG means parental guidance suggested. These programs, such as Friends, contain material that some parents might consider to not be suitable for young children. There may be obscene language, violence, and sexual language and actions. TV14 means that parents should be aware of the program that their child is watching. Programs like Beavis and Butthead may show some material that may not be suitable for children under the age of fourteen. These programs may show mature themes, sexual content, obscene language and violence. TVM is for a mature audience only. Adults design programs like the Playboy Channel and the content may be not suitable for children under the age of seventeen. The program may contain mature content, obscene language graphic violence and heavy sexual content.