We all know that what we see influences us, yet many people defend violence in the media and in computer games. Opinions reflect each person’s bias on the matter, so it’s always helpful when research clarifies the facts. Sadly we have such a high level of scorn toward some truths that we need empirical evidence to confirm what any sensible person knows intuitively to be true.
Websites Linked to Violent Behaviour
This is the headline for a Reuters report from November 6 this year, quoting the results of research from Dr. Michele L. Ybarra of Internet Solutions for Kids. Dr Ybarra’s investigations support the claim that many other studies have already underscored, that young people exposed to violent media are more likely to lash out violently themselves.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has already come to the conclusion from evidence already on hand, that because media violence contributes so much to child violent behaviour it is “the single most easily remediable contributing factor” to youth violence.
Media Influencing Teens
Ybarra’s study into media influencing violence is consistent with research into the media’s influence on the sexual behaviour of adolescents. The Journal of Adolescent Health reported in 2006 that “The mass media are an important context for adolescents’ sexual behaviour”.
The report by L’Engle, Brown and Kenneavy confirms that increased exposure to sexual content through television, music, movies and magazines correlates with a higher level of sexual activity and an increased intent to engage in sexual activity.
The Ybarra study looked at the influence of violent websites on the violent behaviour of 10 to 15 year olds. They specifically looked at “seriously violent behaviour”, defined as shooting or stabbing, robbery, committing aggravated assault, or sexual assault.
Of the 1,500 people surveyed (48% female) 38% reported that they had visited at least one type of violent website. 5% reported having engaged in one of the seriously violent behaviours in the past year.
Children who reported having visited more than one type of violent website in the past year were 50% more likely to engage in a seriously violent behaviour. Those who indicated that most of the websites they visited showed “real people fighting, shooting or killing” were five times more likely than their peers to engage in seriously violent behaviour.
The Web Has the Power
A key insight from the Ybarra study is that violence on television, movies, cartoons, games and music was less likely to correlate to higher levels of violent behaviour than internet violence involving real people.
We all knew instinctively that the cartoon violence of a Foghorn Leghorn character beating up a dog has negligible impact compared to realistic images of real people engaged in violence. Now the research confirms that realistic violence depicted on violent websites has potency above the other violent media depictions available to young people.
A Supply Problem
Some argue that such things as internet violence or media sexual messages do not inherently change people’s behaviour, but they attract those already committed to the course of action. I disagree, and assert, as the L’Engle study in to sexual behaviour indicates, that increased supply of harmful influences results in an increase in the bad outcomes.
I believe the presence of harmful influences is causative in increasing the level of harmful behaviours.
However, even if I am wrong on that point, the problem is still one of ‘supply’. If people are inclined to wrong behaviour and readily addict themselves to and respond to negative influences, then the very supply of those influences is a problem. We have a Supply Problem. Not an undersupply but an oversupply of the wrong influences.
During the Prohibition Era there was a direct correlation between the supply of alcohol and the number of men who were alcoholics. Whatever the underlying predisposition of the drunkard, limiting the supply kept many men and their families from the degradation of alcoholism.
Curb the Supply to Protect our Society
The solution to the problem is in reducing the supply of these harmful influences. Violent realism on websites, sexually arousing images in the media and ready availability of alcohol have all been proven to increase the incidence of people’s harmful behaviour.
Remember the quote earlier from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says of youth violence that media violence is “the single most easily remediable contributing factor”. If we remove media violence we will reduce youth violence. Curb the supply and you reduce the bad behaviour, thus protecting the society.
Fathers Protect the Vulnerable
One of the roles of fathers is to protect the vulnerable people in their care. That is why parents monitor, limit and regulate the influences that reach their children. That is also why fathers of our society, those who are in positions of responsibility to protect us all, must also monitor and regulate the harmful influences that impact our society.
Sadly there are people who use their demand for free speech to overturn all attempts to regulate the harmful influences already taking a serious toll in our society. Until we have true ‘fathers’ in our societies we will continue to unprotected and harmful influences will continue to invade homes and communities.
At the domestic level, parents can set healthy standards for their children and teach those children to understand the dangers. Informed children who have developed healthy self-control can avoid the evil influences that may abound around them. Sadly there are not many parents who understand the problem, let alone feel empowered to act effectively to protect their own children.
Pray that things change for the better.