A few years ago, a seven-year-old boy began to play with his three-year-old brother. Imitating a wrestling move he'd seen on television, the seven-year-old slammed his brother to the floor, accidentally killing him.
The three-year-old died because of something his brother had seen on TV. It's every parent's nightmare—and yet, every year, it seems, more and more violence is being pumped into our living rooms.
On April 25, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a report on the impact violent television programming has on children. Their research found strong evidence that when kids are exposed to media violence, they become more aggressive—at least in the short term. And as FCC chairman Kevin Martin notes, reputable researchers conclude that exposure to media violence leads to emotional desensitization towards real-life violence—and a higher tendency for violent behavior later in life.
And yet, prime-time TV violence has increased 75 percent in the last nine years. By the time they grow up, children are exposed to thousands of scenes of violence, including hundreds of depictions of torture. It's relentless bloodbath, 24-7. And this doesn't even include the video games.
The response by broadcast media and cable companies is to dump the problem into parents' laps. Get a V-chip, they shrug, or—their old favorite—just turn off the TV.
But the FCC report found that current blocking technologies are insufficient, in part because TV ratings are unreliable. Plus, fewer than half of the TV sets in America are capable of blocking objectionable content.
Broadcasters, cable, and satellite companies could voluntarily choose not to air graphic violence when children are likely to be watching. They could offer a la carte programming choices, which would allow parents to choose family-friendly fare without being forced to buy channels featuring graphic violence.
But if broadcasters, cable, and satellite companies refuse to stop shoving blood, gore, and torture into our children's faces, Congress must act. It could insist on the return of the prime time "family hour." And it could require cable and satellite companies to offer programming on a pick-and-choose basis so parents won't have to worry about channel-surfing kids accidentally seeing graphic violence. Other countries already do this, allowing consumers to protect their kids and save money.
Congress may soon be debating a bill that would take on this problem of TV violence. But what a shame that broadcasters and cable companies don't care enough about America's children to do the right thing on their own—now.
We've strayed so far from the biblical worldview that a society's first obligation is to protect our children. We jettisoned this view for radical individualism—a view that says if someone wants something—even television programs that harm children—nobody has the right to stop them, or even restrict the time they can watch it. And if companies want to make money providing it, they say no one should be allowed to restrict them, either. If kids are harmed, if society is harmed—too bad.
We need to call the cable companies and broadcast companies, and our elected representatives, and demand that they address this issue. Children should not have to pay the price—including, tragically, their very lives—so that others can indulge their addiction to violence twenty-four hours a day.
And by the way, if they won't act, turning off the TV is never bad advice.
From BreakPoint®, May 14, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries