Not Censorship, Safety
How was Danvers High math teacher Colleen Ritzer killed last week? With a box cutter the suspect, 14-year-old Philip Chism, had brought into his Massachusetts school.
Last Monday, a 12-year-old shot dead a teacher at Sparks Middle School in Nevada and also injured two fellow students before killing himself.
Last Tuesday, Californian police shot dead a 13-year-old boy who was carrying a pellet gun that looked like an assault rifle.
There were 217 murders in Baltimore City in 2012.
Preventing everyday violence is hard, and it’s not going to happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen just because there is legislation (should we now say people can’t purchase box cutters from their area Staples without a background check?).
We need a more holistic approach. If we want to prevent violence, we have to change our culture. We need to look outside the box cutter and at the influences that affect our children.
Let’s start with TV. Television can be profoundly influential in shaping an impressionable child’s or adolescent’s values, attitudes, perceptions and behaviors. Television reaches children at a younger age and for more time than almost any other socializing influence (a topic for a separate column). Entertainment violence continues to increase; studies show that with repeated exposure, even the most gruesome and grisly depictions of violence eventually seem tame, and viewers become desensitized. Hollywood has to keep pushing the envelope in order to elicit the same reaction.
According to an article published in 1996 by the Christian Science Monitor, witnessing repeated violent acts increases general feelings of hostility, and, over time, consumption of violence-laden imagery can leave viewers with the perception that they are living in a mean and dangerous world, giving them an unrealistically dark view of life.
There is also a powerful linkup between violent commercial products and violence.
The newly enacted gun laws in Maryland would not have stopped any of the mass shootings we suffered in this country in the last year or two; the weapons were legally obtained. The murderers were motivated to kill, and the weapon was inconsequential.
What we need is better health care (especially mental health care) and to step up our educational opportunities so youth raised in poverty can escape it and create for themselves better lives. We need to change the gun culture, too, and make shooting a stigma, not a celebration.
We need stronger and more consistent public outrage; when the media stops talking about a shooting, we need to continue. We need more resources allocated to provide strategies that prevent violence, especially programs that target families with young children. And someone has to better regulate the companies that market violence to children through media, toys and licensed products.
Parents are ultimately responsible for monitoring their children’s media consumption, for instilling in their children a strong and safe values system. But parents are not omniscient or omnipresent in their children’s lives. The “village” needs to assist in in protecting our children from unhealthy exposure.
This is not censorship. It’s safety.
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief