Protecting our Children
Violence in popular media and its 'effects' on people, particularly children, has long been a heated topic. Many advocate for governments to censor or outright ban violent, sexual, and provocative content in music, movies, video games, and other forms of media. Others say it's up to parents and educators to see to it that children aren't exposed to such content.
Are kids really that easily affected by such auditory and visual stimuli, or are we not giving them enough credit?
Peter Jaffe, a University of Western Ontario professor and father of four is leading a coalition that's demanding tighter restrictions and government intervention. Outlined in an article from the Toronto Star, demands include changes to the criminal code's incitement of hatred laws to protect women, establishing a "watershed" hour to prevent radio and TV stations from showing any explicit content before 9pm, and a government controlled ratings system instituted for the music industry.
These requests can be hard to argue with on the surface, however, I think there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the idea of controlling children's intake of media.
A romantic notion of children is that they are innocent and that childhood is a sacred place where one is closer to nature and essential goodness. Barring developmental issues, children are taught to understand the difference between right and wrong from an early age. If my childhood memories are any indication, children will even try their hands at lying, cheating and stealing, and will often attempt to conceal these activities because they know them to be fundamentally wrong. Kids can be terrors. Ask any day care worker.
So now that it's understood that children know right from wrong, just how impressionable can they be? According to attorneys like Jack Thompson, who's made a career of trying (and more often than not, failing) to pin every violent crime on the Sony Playstation, kids are blank slates who are quickly desensitized to violence and become more likely to commit violent acts.
To assume such is to assume that humans have no control over their actions, that media has the power to actually control our minds, and that the people must be protected from themselves by police and government intervention before they commit their crimes. Tons of research has shown that children are not only capable of understanding what's right and wrong, but they are also capable of controlling their own actions.
Lemmings and members of the Borg they are not.
Dalton McGuinty has said he does not plan on instituting new warning systems demanded by Jaffe's coalition. Jane Almeida, while appreciative of the coalition's concern, instead states that the government's priority is to focus on "smaller class sizes [for students], anti-bullying programs in schools and character education".
Some might go so far as to say those priorities are not only sensible and doable, but far more likely to see positive results. The secret to keeping kids off drugs, preventing them from jacking cars, and generally being effected adversely by what has been a presence in media since early caveman paintings and radio programs like War of the Worlds isn't to completely shield them from the obvious. Instead, when your kid catches you chucking grenades in Gears of War, try explaining to them exactly what is going on so they can learn to understand that there is a big difference between fantasy and reality. This is called media literacy, and it is a skill that schools don't teach; parents, it's time to start parenting. Getting involved is far more likely to have a positive effect as opposed to programming the V-Chip and hoping the government can prevent your children from seeing violent imagery while you pretend you've done all you can.
Graphic from Penny Arcade (scroll down from the link for more info about their work with the ESRB)
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