by Lt. Col Dave Grossman (with Loren
evolution of combat and domestic violent crime
evidence is overwhelming. To argue against it is
like arguing against gravity.
American Psychological Association on the wealth
of information linking media violence and teen violence."
- The New York Times, May 9, 1999
violent programming on television and in movies,
and through interactive
point-and-shoot video games,
modern nations are indiscriminately introducing to their
children the same weapons technology that major armies
and law enforcement agencies around the world use to “turn
off” the midbrain “safety catch” that
Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall discovered in World
In terms of combat evolution, this indiscriminate use of combat conditioning
techniques on children is the moral equivalent of giving an assault weapon
to every child in every industrialized nation in the world. If, hypothetically,
this were done, the vast majority of children would almost certainly not
kill anyone with their assault rifles; but if only a tiny percentage did,
then the results would be tragic and unacceptable. But it is increasingly
clear that this is not a hypothetical situation. Indiscriminate civilian
application of combat conditioning techniques as entertainment has increasingly
been identified as a key factor in the worldwide, skyrocketing violent crime
rates outlined earlier. Thus, the influences of weapons technology can increasingly
be observed on the streets of nations around the world.
Weapons lethality and murder rates
"God made man, but Mr. Colt made all men equal."
The resistance to killing addressed in the last chapter
also exists in peacetime, and weapons provide psychological
and mechanical leverage to enable killing in peace as
well as in war. The lethality of weapons, in peace and
war, is a contest between a weapon’s effectiveness
(the state of technology trying to kill you) and medical
effectiveness (the state of technology trying to save
you). Thus the difference between murder and aggravated
assault (trying to murder someone) is also largely a
factor of the effectiveness of available weapons vs.
the effectiveness of available medical lifesaving technology.
Throughout most of human history, the effectiveness of weapons available for
domestic violence did not change significantly. The relative effectiveness of
swords, axes, and blunt objects was basically unchanged, and killing (as an act
of passion, rather than a premeditated act, such as poisoning or leaving a bomb)
was only possible at close-range by stabbing, hacking, and beating. Bows were
kept unstrung and, therefore, were not in a state of readiness for an act of
passion. It required a premeditated act, plus training, plus physical strength
to kill with a bow. Like bows, early muzzle loading gunpowder weapons were generally
not kept in a state of readiness because once they were loaded, the humidity
in the air could seep into the gunpowder, making the load unreliable. Killing
with these weapons generally required time, training and premeditation.
Only in the late 19th century, with the widespread introduction of breechloading,
brass cartridges, was a true act of passion enabled by state-of-the-art weapons
technology. Powerful weapons that could be used with minimal strength and limited
training could now be kept loaded. This achievement in weapons effectiveness
has been virtually unchanged since the 1860s. The early Colt revolver or a double-barrel
shotgun was essentially as effective for close-range killing as any small arms
Thus, the effectiveness of weapons available for domestic violence has remained
relatively stable throughout most of human history. It made one, huge, quantum
leap in the late 19th century, and then has not moved significantly, with the
key exception of psychological conditioning methods designed specifically to
in medical lifesaving technology
advances in trauma care, there would have been 45,000
to 70,000 homicides nationwide in each of the
past five years instead of 15,000 to 20,000."
- “A Hidden Remedy for Murder”
(reporting new research on the impact
of medical technology on murder rates)
By Michael S. Rosenwald, Boston Globe, 8/4/2002
Since 1957, the U.S. per capita aggravated assault rate
(which is, essentially, the rate of attempted murder)
has gone up nearly five-fold, while the per capita murder
rate has less than doubled. The reason for this disparity
is the vast progress in medical technology since 1957,
to include everything from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,
to the national 911 emergency telephone system, to medical
technology advances. Otherwise, murder would be going
up at the same rate as attempted murder.
In 2002, Anthony Harris and a team of scholars from the University of Massachusetts
and Harvard, published a landmark study in the journal, Homicide Studies, which
concluded that medical technology advances since 1970 have prevented approximately
three out of four murders. That is, if we had 1970s level medical technology,
the murder rate would be three or four times higher than it is today.
Furthermore, it has been noted that a hypothetical wound that nine out of ten
times would have killed a soldier in World War II, would have been survived nine
out of ten times by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. This is due to the great leaps
in battlefield evacuation and medical care technology between 1940 and 1970--and
we have made even greater progress in the years since. Thus, it is probably a
conservative statement to say that if today we had 1930s level evacuation notification
and medical technology (no automobiles and telephones for most people, and no
antibiotics), then we would have ten times the murder rate we currently do. That
is, attempts to inflict bodily harm upon one another would result in death ten
times more often.
Consider, for instance, some of the quantum leaps in medical technology across
the years. Just a century ago, any puncture of the abdomen, skull or lungs created
a high probability of death, as did any significant loss of blood (no transfusions)
or most large wounds (no antibiotics or antiseptics), or most wounds requiring
significant surgery (no anesthetics, resulting in death from surgery shock).
Also, consider the increasing impact of police methodology and technology--fingerprints,
communications, DNA matching, video surveillance, and others--in apprehending
killers, preventing second offenses, and deterring crime.
Each of these technological developments, in their place and time, should have
negated the effects of weapons evolution and saved the lives of victims of violence.
When assessing violent crime across any length of time, we should ask what proportion
of trauma patients survive today, and what proportion of those would have died
if they had 1940-level technology (no penicillin), 1930-level technology (no
antibiotics), 1870-level technology (no antiseptics), 1840-level technology (no
anesthetics), or 1600-level technology (no doctors, no anatomy).
The medical technology continues to move forward, saving ever more lives every
year. In an article entitled “New Battlefield techniques,” NY Times
reporter Gina Kolata interviewed Dr. Paul K. Carlton Jr., the recently retired
surgeon general of the Air Force. He told of field surgeons who carry everything
needed in a backpack, including “sonogram machines the size of cassette
recorders, and devices the size of a PDA that can do a complete laboratory analysis
on a drop of blood.”
Dr. Carlton used the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as an example of what is now
250 seriously injured patients, only one died. "It
was the lowest died-of-wounds rate in the history of
war," he said.
One man suffered a catastrophic wound to his rectum, prostate, anus and bladder.
The ghastly injury plunged him into shock immediately, but one of the backpack
surgical teams got to him right away and did a damage control surgery. Then,
he was put on an airplane equipped as a critical care unit and flown a few
thousand miles to another hospital for another surgery to stabilize him.
Then he was flown to Germany for reconstructive surgery.
" He's home with his family now," Dr. Carlton said. In any other war,
he added, "he would have been dead."
A little over a year later, in the invasion of Iraq,
new bandages with a powerful clotting agent that can
stop arterial bleeding were introduced, providing yet
another major leap forward in lifesaving medical technology.
That same technology is also holding down the murder
rate back home.
Landmarks in the Evolution of Medical Lifesaving
-c.1690: French army institutes first scientific, systematic
approach to surgery
-c.1840: Introduction of anesthesia overcomes surgical
-c.1840: Introduction in Hungary of washing hands and
instruments in chlorinated lime solution reduces mortality
due to “childbed fever” from 9.9% to .85%
-c.1860: Introduction by Lister of carbolic acid as germicide
reduced mortality rate after major operations from 45%
-c.1880: Widespread acceptance and adaptation of germicides
-c.1930: Sulfa drugs
-c.1940: Penicillin discovered
-c.1945: Penicillin in general use, and ever-increasing
explosion of antibiotics thereafter
-c.1960: Penicillin synthesized on a large scale
-c.1970: CPR introduced on wide scale
-c.1990: 911 centralized emergency response systems introduced
in U.S. on wide scale
-c.2002: Harris, et al., landmark study by U.Mass and
Harvard, published in the journal Homicide Studies concludes
that med tech advances since 1970 have prevented approximately
(Note: Dates generally represent century or decade of
major, large-scale introduction)
Increases in worldwide violent crime
"I think about your work on the effects
of violent pop culture when the news tells us of dictators
and Kim Jong-Il, who are addicted to American "action" movies.
One wonders whether the pernicious effects of our "culture
of violence" may be extending beyond our borders!
Our toxic products tend to sink to the bottom of humanity,
where they will do the worst harm, in our society or
elsewhere in the world. The American electronic
media has much to answer for."
- Asher Abrams, Gulf War veteran
Correspondence to Col. Grossman
Thus, instead of murder, we have to assess attempted murder, aggravated assault
or some other consistently defined violent attack as an indicator of violent
crime, and by this measure the increase is staggering. The study by Anthony Harris,
mentioned above, concluded that in the U.S. the aggravated assault rate reported
in the FBI Annual Crime Report is a highly accurate reflection of the problem
in the U.S. (This study and many others, however, have concluded that the National
Crime Victimization Survey is increasingly inaccurate.)
Consider the following per capita crime rates, as reported by each nation to
InterPol. (The U.S. data is from the FBI Annual Crime Report, and the Canadian
data if from their Centre for Justice.)
U.S., 1957-00 5x
Canada 1962-00 4x
Norway/Greece 1977-99 5x
Australia/New Zealand 1977-99 4x
Sweden/Austria/France 1977-99 3x
8 other European nations* 1977-99 2x
(*Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Scotland, and
The increase in violent crime in all these nations occurred during a period when
medical and law enforcement technology should have brought murder and crime rates
down. Similar increases have been noted in India, Latin America and Japan, and
all of these nations have identified media violence as a significant new factor
that is contributing to this problem. As we shall see, the same factors that
caused a revolution in combat are also causing an explosion of violent crime
Military conditioning as entertainment for children
"What boots it at one gate to make defense, And at another to let in the
- Milton Samson Agonistes
Television, movie and video game violence teaches kids
to kill by using the same mechanisms of classical conditioning,
operant conditioning and social learning that is employed
by modern soldiers, but without the safeguards of discipline
and character development. Since this subject has already
been addressed extensively in On Killing and Stop Teaching
Our Kids to Kill, and the impact of operant conditioning
in violent video games has been updated in this book,
I will not address these topics any further here.
One aspect of this problem that should be addressed here is the safety catch
used to prevent soldiers from unlawful or unauthorized killing.
I was called as an expert witness and consultant in the case of Timothy McVeigh
and the Oklahoma City bombing. The defense contacted me first, explaining that
they wanted me to tell the jury how McVeigh’s military experience and his
Gulf War training had turned him into a killer. I told them that I could not
do it. I was still on active duty then, and they argued that the army could not
say no. They had a court order signed by the judge in that case, authorizing
me $150 an hour to serve as an expert witness. They had the money to pay me,
and the authority to make me, but they did not have the facts on their side.
I told them that the reason I could not and would not do it was because they
were wrong about how they perceived McVeigh’s military experience. The
truth was just the opposite, in that the returning veteran is a superior member
of society and is less likely to use his skills inappropriately than is a non-veteran
of the same age and same sex. Again they said they were willing to pay me $150
an hour, but again I said no. Then they told me something that I found to be
very interesting. They said, “You don’t usually admit this as a defense
attorney, but we know that our client is guilty and our primary concern is to
prevent the death penalty, and Timothy McVeigh might die if you don’t help
with his defense.” Again I said no...with a clear conscience.
Six months later the prosecution got wind of which way the defense was going
and quickly secured me as a consultant, on standby as an expert witness, by government
order. Which meant they never paid me a nickel. I showed them data from the Bureau
of Justice Statistics, which demonstrated that our returning veterans from World
War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War were less likely to be
incarcerated than non-veterans of the same age and the same sex. While those
who learned leadership, logistics and maintenance skills returned home and put
their learning to good use in the civilian world, those soldiers who learned
only to kill did not.
Now, this does not mean that our veterans do not have problems. The data simply
shows that in each of these wars we gave hundreds upon hundreds of thousands
of men weeks, months and years of training on how to kill. Then we sent them
to distant lands to fight for us, sometimes for years on end, and when they came
home they were less likely to use their deadly skill than non-veterans of the
same age and the same sex. The finest killers who ever walked the face of this
earth were the boys who came home from World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam,
and yet they were less likely to use those skills than a non-veteran. The reason
is clear: Combined with learning to kill, they acquired a steely, warrior discipline--and
that is the safeguard.
Across a hundred centuries, the fearsome forge of combat has forced the military
to evolve the mechanisms to enable killing. Any nation that does not stay abreast
of this dreadful evolution will be defeated and conquered. In that same fearsome
forge, with the same tragic consequences of failure, the military has learned
how to put safeguards on the returning warrior to insure that he is not a threat
to the nation that sent him into battle. Any nation that does not do so, might
also face defeat and conquest from its own soldiers.
Discipline is the safeguard in a warrior’s life. It is the difference between
the sheepdog and the wolf. The military does not dress young troops in uniforms,
shave their heads and make them march just for the fun of it. They do these things
because if the young warrior cannot submit his will to authority about inconsequential
things, such as the way he dresses and how he wears his hair, then he cannot
be trusted to submit his will to authority for important things, such as employing
deadly force only when a situation calls for it, no matter how bad the provocation.
At least while the trainee is in the police academy or in military basic training,
there is a need for discipline and submission to authority, and that is the safeguard.
Say you are a law enforcement officer or a soldier, and you go to a firing range
and shoot at the wrong time or point your weapon in the wrong direction. Or,
worse yet, you shoot in the wrong direction. What do you think would happen?
A whole world of hurt would come down on your head! The idea of shooting in the
wrong direction or at the wrong time is beyond comprehension in the minds of
a trained warrior. That is the discipline that the warrior lives by. That is
Media violence and the “Classroom Avenger” profile
A former lieutenant colonel and psychologist, Professor
David Grossman, has said that these games teach young
people to kill with all the precision of a military training
program, but none of the character training that goes
along with it. For children who get the right training
at home and who have the ability to distinguish between
real and unreal consequences, they're still games. But
for children who are especially vulnerable to the lure
of violence, they can be far more.
- President Clinton, in his national address in the aftermath
of the Columbine school massacre
and FBI consultant, Dr. James McGee has conducted
the most definitive profile of
the school shooters,
using extensive data collected from 17 cases. Dr. McGee
calls these kids, “Classroom Avengers,” and
his superb research has been extensively used by local,
federal and international law enforcement organizations.
There are many myths about these killers. For example,
some individuals claim they were all on Ritalin or Prozac,
which is wrong. The truth is that very
few, if any, of these school shooters was on these drugs when they committed
their crimes. Dr. McGee says there is a lot of "bad" info out there,
and even most of the media reports were wrong, based on rumor that cannot
be refuted because the reporters do not have access to the juvenile offenders’ medical
records. McGee had access to the FBI data in these cases, and he believes
that one or possibly two of the school shooters was had been on antidepressants
and one or two had been on Ritalin, but in most of cases they had been taken
off those medications prior to committing their crimes. It may be useful
to ask ourselves how many kids (and how many adults) would have committed
violent crimes if they were not on powerful, modern antidepressants.
Very few, if any, of the school shooters were on medication, but according
to the FBI, all of these Classroom Avengers did have something in common:
All of them had refused to participate in any disciplined activity or sport,
and all of them were obsessed with media violence.
Consider these facts. When they committed their crimes:
-None of the school shooters was in
-None of them had trained extensively in the strict discipline of a martial art.
(One had earned a yellow belt, the lowest rank which took only a few weeks, and
after dabbling briefly he dropped out.)
-None of the school killers was in Junior ROTC.
-None of them was a competitive shooter, a very demanding sport with draconian
punishments if you fire at the wrong time or in the wrong direction.
-None of the school killers had a hunting license, another activity
that requires strict discipline and adherence to the law. (Did you know that
if you shoot at
a deer from your car, you would lose your car, your gun, your money, and your
hunting license? For all you golfers, what would happen if the first time you
cheated, they took your clubs and your cart, and banned you from golfing again?
There wouldn’t be any golfers left! Such draconian discipline and severe
punishment is present in hunting because the activity involves deadly weapons,
and hunters wouldn’t have it any other way.)
-None of them had been avid paintball players, a demanding sport that requires
discipline, and one in which the player can get hurt. (You may note that paintball
does provide military quality conditioned reflexes and combat inoculation, but
no one is attacking this sport, nor should they. The entire medical community--AMA,
APA, American Academy of Pediatrics, and many others--has warned us about the
health impact of violent video games, but not one scholarly study has indicated
that paintball is harmful for kids. Again, discipline seems to be the safeguard.)
video game industry is particularly incensed by this
school shooter profile, and have gone to extreme levels
to provide some exceptions. For example, they claim that
the Columbine killers were reported to have gone bowling.
Which is a pretty pathetic example, and I believe it
simply proves the point if this is the best they can
come up with. The primary point to remember is that it
is not me saying this about these killers. It is the
(It should be mentioned that there was one disciplined activity in which several
of the school shooters did participate (although several of them later dropped
out), and that was band. But no one is sure what to make of that. I am not taking
a cheap shot at band, an excellent activity in which all three of my sons participated.
This is a puzzle that many good people have examined with sincere concern, developing
theories involving such factors as the absence of discipline in some band programs,
possible bullying in the band environment, and the non-athletic nature of this
With a few minor exceptions, none of the school shooters were willing to participate
in disciplined, structured, adult led activities, but all of them were infatuated
with media violence. In the end, the profile of the school killer is that of
a sad, pathetic little kid who is obsessed with violent movies, TV, and/or video
games, but who will not participate in an activity in which he might be hurt
or have to submit to discipline.
I am not necessarily recommending any of these activities for children, nor am
I condemning them. But I am joining our medical community in stating that, from
the perspective of my area of expertise in enabling killing in combat, the impact
of violent TV, movies, and (most especially) video games on kids should be condemned.
Like the Al-Qaida terrorist, or the kamikaze pilot, or the Nazi SS, these kids
have immersed themselves in a sick culture, and they have convinced themselves
that what they are doing is good, appropriate and necessary. The school shooters
are all products of our sick culture, and those who immerse themselves in the
sickest part of our sick culture have potential to be very sick indeed.
Warrior training: violence can be good and it can be needed
"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
- George Washington
First annual address to Congress, 1790
While discipline is the safeguard in a warrior’s life, the other half of
the equation is violence. When Private Grossman stepped off the bus in Ft. Ord,
California, in 1974, a man named Drill Sergeant Garito was there waiting for
me. I still have nightmares about that man upon occasion. The Stockholm Syndrome
set in, I identified with my captor, and he convinced me, beyond a shadow of
a doubt, that violence can be good.
In the law enforcement and military environment, can violence be a good thing?
Yes, because it is often the only thing that will save your life. When done right,
it is honored above all else. In the military, every barracks, range, street,
weapon system, and ship is named after military heroes who killed lots of people,
and young soldiers know that if they perform the same, they too will be famous.
My co-author tells about a man who took a woman hostage in her mobile home. At
one point he inserted the barrel of a shotgun into her vagina and duct taped
it into place. When negotiations failed and the man’s agitated threats
to kill the woman reached a peak, a police sharpshooter fired through the window,
disintegrating the man’s head. Was violence the solution in this situation?
Was violence a good thing? Yes, because today an innocent victim is alive as
a result of that action.
Drill Sergeant Garito convinced Private Grossman that violence was good and that
violence was needed because there were people out there who would hurt me--and
he was at the top of the list. When a soldier or police officer is convinced
that violence is good and needed, when he is convinced deep in his gut that violence
is valued and that there are people who need it used on them, then the foundation
is established for that person to be a killer. When we add the ingredient of
discipline with the capability of violence, we create a warrior.
The media’s influence: violent kids without discipline
"Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the
King Henry VI
What if we convinced our children when they were two,
three or four years old that violence was good and needed,
but we did not teach them discipline? Then we would have
created killers, little homegrown sociopaths, as in Moses
Lake, Bethel, Pearl, Paducah, Jonesboro, Springfield,
Littleton, Taber (Canada), Edinborough, Conyers, Ft.
Gibson, Santee, San Diego, and Erfurt (Germany).
We have had a five-fold increase in per capita violent
crime in America, Norway and Greece; and a four-fold
increase in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Violent
crime has tripled in Sweden, Austria and France, and doubled in eight other European
nations. Although there are many factors influencing this, let’s examine
one new ingredient in the equation: the media.
Until children are six or seven years old, they have great difficulty differentiating
between fantasy and reality. That is why we do not use them as witnesses in court.
We do not send people to prison on the word of a five-year-old, since kids at
that age are so malleable and suggestible. When children between two and six
years of age see someone on television getting shot, stabbed, brutalized, degraded,
and murdered, those images are real to them, as real as anything in their young
Wise men understood this over 2,000 years ago. Socrates wrote, in The Republic:
What is this education to be, then? Perhaps we shall
hardly invent a system better than the one which long
experience has worked out, with its two branches for
the cultivation of the mind and the body. And I suppose
we shall begin with the mind, before we start physical
And the beginning, as you know, is always the most important part, especially
in dealing with anything young and tender. That is the time when the character
is being molded and easily takes any impress one may wish to stamp on it.
Then shall we simply allow our children to listen to any stories that anyone
happens to make up, and so receive into their minds ideas often the very
opposite of those we shall think they ought to have when they are grown up?
No, certainly not.
It seems, then, our first business will be to supervise the making of fables
and legends, rejecting all which are unsatisfactory; and we shall induce
nurses and mothers to tell their children only those which we have approved,
and to think more of molding their souls with these stories … Most
of the stories now in use must be discarded.
The worst of all faults, especially if the story is ugly and immoral as well
as false – misrepresenting the nature of gods and heroes.
A child cannot distinguish the allegorical sense from the literal, and the
ideas he takes in at that age are likely to become indelibly fixed; hence
the great importance of seeing that the first stories he hears shall be designed
to produce the best possible effect on his character.
Think of the impact of violent media as a boot camp for
kids, their own little basic training. As they sit before
the tube, hour after hour, they learn that violence is
good and violence is needed. They see it, experience
it--and they believe it. They are inundated with the
violence factor, but they never get the discipline. Now,
if it troubles you that our young soldiers have to go
through a process of traumatization and brutalization,
you should be infinitely more troubled that we are doing
the same thing indiscriminately to our children without
the safeguards of discipline.
Police officers see horrible things every day: car accidents,
gunshot victims, suicide victims, fights, violent death,
and suffering. Soldiers in combat
see unconscionable acts of man’s inhumanity to man. Would you want
your child to see these things? No. Then why would you let them see it on
television? Understand that what they see is real to them, and by watching
all the blood, gore and revenge, they learn that that is the way the world
I was once on a national radio talk show discussing the effects of violent
media on kids. A man called in to say that he agreed that it is a violent
world and that he wanted his son to be able to function in such a world.
To “help” his boy do so, he would take him to see violent movies
every chance he got. In fact, the man had just taken him to see Saving Private
Ryan, a movie that is probably the most realistic depiction of the horror
of combat that has ever been put on film. I asked the age of his son. “Six,” the
Six! Maybe a mature teenager seeing that extraordinarily violent movie with
his father would be appropriate, but a six-year-old? Never. I said, “Brother,
do you understand that for a six-year-old that movie was real? Do you understand
that the real soldiers depicted in that movie traveled to a distant land
and laid their lives down in the sand by the thousands to prevent the horrors
of war from coming to American children? If those young warriors who died
on that beach could see you intentionally inflicting the horror of that beach
upon your six-year-old son, they would roll over in their graves.”
Our job is to protect our children, not rape their innocenc
e when they are
six. We can no more share our favorite violent movie (or TV show or video
game) with our kids than we can share sex with them.
The effects of violent media on children: fear, bullying and murder
oldest sins the newest kind of ways."
King Henry IV
children who are traumatized and brutalized through their
exposure to violent media do not become violent,
they do become depressed and fearful. If you were in
the service or are in law enforcement, you no doubt remember
people who were washed out of basic training or the academy.
These people wanted to be there, but the rigid discipline
and the intense violence was just too much for them,
and they became depressed and dropped out. Likewise,
when two-, three-, four- and five-year-old children are
exposed to this environment via media’s realistic
depictions of death and mayhem, it becomes too much for
them and most of them just become depressed and fearful.
They “drop out” of this “boot camp” violentization
process, but they are forever scarred by their experience.
Most of those who do become violent will not become criminals, they will become
bullies. Bullying is the law of the jungle. The alpha male in every tribe, in
every herd and in every flock is a bully, which means he gets whatever he wants.
In every environment on earth, being a bully is a perfectly adaptive, appropriate
and desirable behavior--except in a civilization. In a civilization we must punish
and prevent bullying.
Through their early exposure to bloody violence, we convince our youngest children
that it is a dark, hard, brutal and desperate jungle out there and, as a result,
most of them become victims and others become bullies. Have we got a problem
with bullying in our schools? Yes, numerous studies demonstrate this fact, and
it is a situation that is getting worse.
It is not just one big kid hassling one little kid, now it is gangs of bullies
pecking away at one poor little kid. If you have been around chickens, you know
there is always one chicken being pecked by the others, sometimes pecked to death.
If you pull the victim chicken out and eat it for dinner (not much of a save
from the chicken’s standpoint), the remaining chickens will simply choose
another to fill that one’s place. The same thing is happening in our schools.
Not every child is being bullied. Some children are blessed with wonderful teachers
who make school a positive environment that they look forward to. And others
have such a toxic environment at home that school is an escape. For many kids,
however, school has become a corrosive, toxic, fearful environment.
The Secret Service says that in 1998 we had 35 murders in American schools, but
that is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, medical technology is saving more
and more lives every year. Besides the 35 deaths, there were around 257,000 serious
injuries caused by violence in our schools that year. How many kids have been
killed or seriously injured by school fires in the last 10 years? None. But a
quarter of a million were seriously injured by school violence in 1998 alone.
Then there were nearly one million thefts and larcenies in those same months.
Many of the kids who lost their bikes, skateboards, lunch money, and backpacks
were victims of bullies, alpha males who committed criminal acts, using intimidation
and physical force to take what they want. There were 1,500,000 reports of fighting.
If you have not been a kid for a while, you should know that fighting is far
different today than it has ever been. It is far more brutal and more likely
to involve weapons.
My co-author investigated a case where a Vietnamese gang member was angered because
another kid “looked at him hard” (meaning the kid glared) as they
passed each other in the hall. The gang member skipped his next class and went
to a nearby Vietnamese grocery where he bought a meat cleaver. He returned to
the school, found the kid who had glared at him, and hacked a large wedge out
of the boy’s shoulder. As the other kids screamed and panicked, the gang
member walked calmly back to store, cleaning the blood and bone chips from the
blade on the way, and got a refund, telling the clerk he decided he did not need
the cleaver anymore.
In the “good ol’ days,” it was always boys fighting boys, but
about 20 years ago it began to change, with girls fighting girls and, in the
last 10 years, girls fighting boys. To the boys’ chagrin, the girls are
winning. This is because the average girl can kick a boy’s tail in junior
high, since boys and girls develop at different rates. When they get into high
school, though, and the boys have had a developmental spurt, they are fighting
the girls and administering a degree of violence and brutality upon them like
nothing we have seen before.
There is also a different nature to the ritualistic fight-after-school. Today,
it is epidemic and extraordinarily violent. Statistics show 18 million incidents
of bullying. Do we have a moral obligation to prevent this? Of course! Just as
firefighters have an obligation to prevent fires, law enforcement has an obligation
to prevent bullying and violence in the schools.
While there have always been bullies and bullying, there is something new going
on, something fueling the fire. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that
violence is a learned skill, and it is learned most pervasively through violence
in the family and through--what is the new and toxic addition--violence in the
media. The result: bullying and cruelty. What are television programs, violent
video games and movies teaching kids about how to respond when being bullied?
Payback. It is no longer just fighting back, now it is payback in the extreme.
Remember the old television programs and old movies where the sheriff faced down
the lynch mob? He would tell them that there is going to be justice in the town,
and then he sent them home in shame. Sadly, those old themes are gone.
Hollywood voluntarily submitted to a written code, beginning in 1930 and continuing
through 1968 when the MPAA rating system was set up. This “Hays Code” said
...the MORAL IMPORTANCE of entertainment is something
which has been universally recognized. It enters intimately
into the lives of men and women and affects them closely;
it occupies their minds and affections during leisure
hours; and ultimately touches the whole of their lives.
A man may be judged by his standard of entertainment
as easily as by the standard of his work.
like Casablanca and Gone With The Wind were made
under a code that a criminal was not rewarded, violent
behavior and lawlessness was always punished, and the
criminal was never the hero. Well, that code went away
in the late 1960s and then we got Dirty Harry, Charles
Bronson in the Death Wish series, and Richard Roundtree
Today, there is a new type of hero in action, adventure and horror movies,
in plots that almost always play out the same way. They begin with horrific
death and destruction so vivid, so in-your-face that audiences, kids included,
are virtual witnesses to bloody celluloid realism. Then the audience sits
through the rest of the movie as the hero desperately seeks vengeance. Toward
the end, it is often the bad guys who are shown playing by the rules, as
the hero turns into an avenger, violating codes of ethics and breaking laws
along the way. Anthropologists and sociologists say there is great power
in the stories we tell ourselves, so when we tell tales of vengeance, we
are going to reap avengers.
Say we have a kid being bullied. He feels helpless and powerless to fight
back. He is not into sports, martial arts or any activity other than playing
video games. He associates only with friends who feel the same way he does.
He is, in fact, exactly like all the school killers who shared one common
trait: an obsession with media violence. Like all the others, this kid becomes
convinced that the right response is anger followed by revenge. What began
as an outrageous act of bullying, soon begets an even more outrageous act
of revenge. It is an all too common vicious cycle that is happening inside
our kids’ schools right now.
The 15-year phenomena: a generation later, you pay the price
boy’s will is the wind’s will, And the
thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."
Most kids inflicted with media violence do not become killers, they just
become depressed and fearful. Those who do become violent turn into bullies.
Still, enough kids do become killers that we now have this alarming statistic:
Anywhere in North America where television has appeared, the murder rate
doubles 15 years later. This has happened in South Africa, Brazil, Mexico,
and Japan, but it has been best measured in North America. Television appeared
first on the East Coast and then on the West Coast. It appeared first in
the cities, then later in the countryside. It appeared first in the white
community and then later in the African-American community. We got it first
in America, and then later in Canada. No matter where it appeared, 15 years
later the murder rate at least doubled. Why 15? That is how long it takes
kids to grow up. We exposed them to violent media between the ages of two
and six, which convinced them that the world is a dark and violent place,
and then 15 years later, when they are teenagers or in their early 20s, we
reap what we sowed.
The murder rate in America today is six per 100,000 per year. If six more out
of 100,000 people were convinced to kill, the murder rate would double. Remember,
murder is just the tip of the iceberg because for every homicide there are tens
of thousands of injurious assaults, hundreds of thousands of thefts, millions
of acts of bullying, and untold millions who live their life in fear.
The June 10, 1992, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association,
the world’s most prestigious medical journal, reported that violence depicted
on television “caused” (caused is a powerful scientific word) a subsequent
doubling of the homicide rate in America 15 years later. The AMA is so convinced
of the impact of violent media, that they said if television technology had never
been developed in the United States (or if we had kept our kids away from it)
there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year, 70,000 fewer rapes and
700,000 fewer injurious assaults.
I was on Meet the Press with Surgeon General David Satcher two weeks after the
Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado. The moderator, Tim Russert,
held up my book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill and asked the Surgeon General
who could possibly deny, in light of what happened at Columbine, that we are
indeed teaching our kids to kill. During the panel discussion, the Surgeon General
was asked if he could do a report on the link between media violence and violence
in our society, and give us a warning just as his office did about tobacco. He
said that he could do another report, but first we should read the 1972 Surgeon
General’s Report, which had already established the link. He said we could
also read the report by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop that shows a link
between media violence and violence in our society. “We don’t need
more research,” he said. “We need action.”
The media cover-up: Censoring news that will make them lose money
organizations representing all of America’s
doctors, all her psychiatrists, and millions of parents,
call upon an industry to change (i.e., reduce violence
on the public airwaves), and then that industry does
exactly the opposite (i.e., increases the violence),
this can be viewed as nothing short of complete and total
contempt for the people of the United States."
- Dave Grossman & Gloria DeGaetano
Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill
No doubt you know that the Surgeon General says that tobacco can cause cancer.
Most people, though, are unaware that he has also said that media violence can
cause real violence in our society. It is not surprising why so few people have
heard of this when you consider that we count on the media for our information.
If you were to ask the tobacco industry about the link between tobacco and cancer,
they would most likely lie. Some might even believe their lies, but that does
not change the fact that what they tell us is untrue. In the recent past, the
tobacco industry has presented a stooge researcher and a tamed scientist on a
leash to say that tobacco does not cause cancer, and that the AMA and the Surgeon
General do not know what they are talking about. What was the one way you could
tell when the tobacco industry was lying? Their lips were moving.
So, if you ask the television industry about the health impact of their product,
what do you think they would do? They would move their lips. They would bring
out their stooge researcher and their tame scientist on a leash, all to say that
there is no link between violent media and violence in America. The American
Medical Association, the American Psychological Association (APA), the Surgeon
General, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) all cry from the mountain
about the grave harm being done, but the media systematically censors their cries.
The reason is clear: They are just another industry, like the tobacco industry
that refuses to give out information that will cut its own throats.
The American Family Association (AFA) has done good work organizing people to
boycott various elements of the media. They publish a monthly bulletin in which
they outline what they consider to be the worst television programs, along with
addresses and phone numbers of the sponsors. Not surprisingly, the media censors
the information about these boycotts. Here is an example.
In early 2000, the Southern Baptist Church, which is the largest protestant denomination
in the United States, representing millions of people, along with several other
denominations, joined together to boycott Disney, primarily because of the violent,
sexually explicit movies that they produce under another name. For several years
Disney took quite a beating and their family movies consistently flopped, so
the boycott was somewhat effective. But after the initial media report on the
boycott there was never a follow-up story. There were plenty of other news and
business articles about Disney’s problems, but not one mentioned that there
was an effective, ongoing boycott of Walt Disney by the nation’s largest
protestant denomination. Such boycotts are effective, but they are tough to get
off the ground because the media refuses to give them coverage.
Here is another example of this censorship (can it really be called anything
but that?). In July of 2000, there was a bipartisan, bicameral congressional
conference at which the AMA, the APA, the AAP, and the American Academy of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatry--those are all of our doctors and all our pediatricians--made
a joint statement to congress. They reported that the media is a causal factor
of violence in our society, and violent video games are particularly dangerous.
If you are like most people, you did not hear about that, though you probably
did hear about the deadly problems with Firestone tires.
It is clear what is going on. On one hand everyone has heard and read that Firestone
tires may have been a causal factor in approximately 250 deaths across several
years (it has not been proven as of this writing). On the other hand, the Journal
of the American Medical Association says that the product presented by the media
is a key, causal factor in 10,000 murders a year, yet no one hears a word about
that. The reason is clear: We do not have a free press. When it comes to the
media’s liability, negligence and culpability, the information is systematically
I was on the now defunct television program Politically Incorrect, sharing the
stage with three Hollywood media types. Their big argument was this: “Well,
people buy it, so we sell it.” They admitted that it might hurt people,
but their only defense was to blame the buyer. I told them that was “drug
dealer logic,” except that most drug dealers do not sell their product
to little children.
The media also argues that it is the parent’s job to control what kids
watch. Do not regulate our product, they say, because it is the parent’s
job to monitor their children. Well, what if the pornography industry tried that?
We know that the First Amendment protects adults to view porn, but what if a
six-year-old child walked into a porn shop with a $10 bill, and the proprietor
shrugged and rented him a video, arguing that it is the parent’s job to
monitor want he watches? What if the gun industry tried this? They could argue, “We’re
protected by the Second Amendment. Don’t you dare regulate children’s
access to guns; that is the parent’s job.” What if the automobile
industry used this argument, or the alcohol, or tobacco industries tried it?
What if the child abuser tried that line? “I know that little girl was
only eight, it’s the parent’s job to keep her away from me.”
It is indeed the parent’s job to protect their kids from guns, alcohol,
tobacco, pornography, sex, drugs, and cars, and we have laws that help them do
that. So why are parents being left to their own devices when it comes to violent
media? The information exists about its toxicity, but the media uses their control
over the public airwaves to censor it. Sadly, this censorship is impacting us
at the cost of 10,000 murders a year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that of all the causes of violent crime
in American, media violence is “the single most remediable factor.” Just
as there are many causal factors to, say, heart disease, there are also many
casual factors to violent crime in our country. However, out of all the factors
that influence it, media violence is the single most remediable.
In that joint statement made to the U.S. Congress by the AMA, the APA, the American
Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
they said: "Well over 1,000 studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection
between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children."
Until 2001, no one had demonstrated that when media violence is removed from
the lives of children that their violent behavior goes down. That is, until the
The Stanford Study: The light at the end of the tunnel
"Long is the way, And hard, that out of hell leads up to light."
In the spring of 2001,
Stanford University released a landmark study that showed less television
equals less violence. The study found a 50 percent
decrease in verbal aggression and a 40 percent decrease in physical aggression,
just by encouraging kids to turn off their televisions and video games. Thomas
N. Robinson, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford and the study's
lead author, said, "What this says is there is something you can do
in a practical way, in a real-world setting, and see the effects."
The Stanford data was gathered at two similar San Jose elementary schools. Researchers
first carefully assessed the baseline level of aggressive behavior in 192 third-
and fourth-graders through playground observations and interviews. They then
introduced a curriculum at one school meant to encourage children to cut back
on video games and watch less television. Two-thirds of the pupils agreed to
participate in an initial, 10-day effort to turn off their televisions, which
was monitored by slips signed by parents. Over half of them limited their television
watching to less than seven hours per week during the next 20 weeks.
After 20 weeks, the researchers found a 40 percent reduction in physical aggression,
and a 50 percent reduction in the level of verbal aggression in the overall population
at the experimental school, compared with the other that did not follow the curriculum.
The children who were the most aggressive at the outset of the study had the
most to gain, and did in fact show the greatest benefit. The researchers also
noted a significant reduction in obesity and overeating problems in the school
where the curriculum was introduced.
Remember, according to the U.S. Secret Service, in 1998 alone there were 35 kids
murdered in acts of school violence and a quarter of a million "seriously
injured." However, it has been many years since a single child has been
killed or seriously injured by school fire. This means that the likelihood of
your child being killed or injured by school violence is thousands of times greater
than the probability of them being killed or injured in a school fire. Thus,
we have the moral obligation to spend at least as much time and energy on school
violence as we do on school fires. Every school has sprinklers, alarms, drills,
and extinguishers in preparation for fires, so why don't we prepare for what
is killing our kids?
If we had a quarter of a million kids seriously injured by school fire every
year, and we knew that fire drills would reduce that by 40 percent, would we
have a moral obligation to conduct fire drills? You bet. So, if we have a quarter
of a million kids a year seriously injured by school violence, and we knew that
educating them about the health impact of media violence would reduce that by
40 percent, would we have a moral obligation to conduct media violence education?
You better believe it.
When I was in first grade and the teacher told us that cigarettes could kill
people, I thought immediately of my dad who smoked. I loved my dad and did not
want him to die, so I hid his cigarettes (he convinced me that that was not a
good idea). The generation in elementary school that was first taught about the
health risks of tobacco is the same one that grew up and played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey
with the tobacco industry.
Today we are on the threshold of a generation that is being informed of the health
impact of media violence, the result of which, if corrective measures are implemented,
will be a major victory for America's children and for the American people. We
have never had anything that demonstrated a fraction of the result of the Stanford
study. We have wonderful programs in place, such as aggression replacement, peer
mediation, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and Gang Resistance Education
and Training (GREAT), all outstanding efforts, but not one has demonstrated a
fraction of the impact of simply teaching kids to just turn off the television.
Turn off the toxic culture.
Here is what I call my “milk and cookies equation.” Say there is
a kid hooked on some kind of an addictive drug. We could give him all the milk
and cookies in the world but he would still do everything he could to get his
fix. If the drug were suddenly yanked out of his life, he would suffer and struggle
through the withdrawal process until he returned to normal. It is only then,
when he is no longer hungry for his fix, that he would be ready to accept the
food. The Stanford Study made it clear the positive impact that happens when
we take the addictive drug of violent media out of children’s lives.
I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful lady who runs a state sponsored
school in Canada for violent Native American boys from the backwoods country.
The kids in this Canadian school were placed there because they are prone to
violence, so much so that the Mounties had to be called almost daily. The program
was designed so that kids would attend the school for a short while and then
get cycled out at the end of the semester.
With one group of boys, the principal removed television and all violent video
games from their lives. Remember that the Stanford Study found that the most
violent kids were impacted the greatest when television was taken out of their
lives. At the Canadian school, there was a 90 percent reduction in violence among
the boys who had television and video games removed, compared to any previous
group of boys who had been through that school.
The Center for Successful Parenting is now the national distributor for the Stanford Curriculum.
You can get more information at the CSP web site at www.sosparents.org.
vs America: “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with it
is an idiot”
dream factory has become the poison factory.
- Hollywood vs. America
Has there always been violence? Will there always be violence?
Of course, but we know now that when the ingredient of media violence is added
else, violence skyrockets. After the slaughter at Columbine High School, the
president of CBS television made a slip. When asked if he thought the media had
anything to do with the Columbine shootings, he answered, “Anyone who thinks
the media has nothing to do with it is an idiot.” How much clearer can
Shortly after the Littleton killings, the California Senate unanimously approved
a resolution on media violence. By chance did you read or hear anything about
this unanimously approved senate resolution? Probably not, because it was censored.
Here is what Ted Turner said: “Television violence is the single most significant
factor contributing to violence in America.” He didn’t say it is
the only factor; he said it is the most significant one. Now, if Ted Turner knows
that but he keeps selling it to kids, what does that make him? A hypocrite? A
child abuser? An accessory to murder?
So why does he keep doing it? Money. It makes him rich. Rich like a drug dealer.
Does a drug dealer know he is hurting people? Of course. Does he care? Not one
bit. Do the media people know that they are hurting people? Of course. They even
admit it. Do they care? Apparently not.
We are dealing with an industry functioning at the moral level of drug dealers;
in fact, one of their objectives is to convince us to legalize drugs. Once they
sell out to drug dealer logic, then the next natural step is to legalize drugs
and identify with the dealers and other criminals. How low can they go? There
is a wonderful, insightful book by Michael Medved called Hollywood vs America,
and I encourage you to read it. I have been on Michael’s national radio
show several times. He is a brilliant man who writes a weekly column for USA
Today and is one of our nation’s most respected commentators on the media. “Hollywood
vs America.” That really says it all.
On one occasion, I was on CNN’s Larry King Show and then later served as
a member of a panel at a national conference chaired by King. He is great man
and his program is not hurting anyone--except maybe the occasional crooked politician.
Still, he is part of the media industry, so his first response to its culpability
At one point in the program, King said, “Colonel, there’s violence
in the Bible. Why don’t we take the Bible away from kids, too?”
“The difference,” I told him, “is that the American Medical
Association has not identified the Bible as a key causal factor in half of all
the murderers in America. No one should be talking about very young children
and the written word because they cannot process it until they are around eight
years old. What they see goes into their eyes, it is decoded in their logic center,
and it trickles and filters into their emotional center.” I went on to
explain oral communication. “No one should be talking about the spoken
word, as it cannot be processed until around age four. Spoken language goes into
the kids’ ears, where it is decoded in the logic center, and then trickles
and filters into the emotional center.” Then I explained the dramatic difference
with what the child sees. “Violent visual imagery can be fully processed
as young as 14 months. The images seen by an infant go straight into the eyes,
and then into the emotional center where they have an immediate impact on how
that baby views the world.”
Now, one or two violent shows will not immediately transform a young mind, but
the average child in America spends more time in front of the tube than he does
in school. In school, he learns reading, writing, arithmetic, and every other
academic subject, but it is from television that he learns about death, horror
Violent imagery can have a profound and tragic impact on a child. Comparing it
to Grimm’s Fairy Tales or comparing it to the Bible is like comparing cigarettes
Loren Christensen knows a young couple whose daughter was 17 months old on September
11, 2001. Like most people in America, the couple sat transfixed by the horrific
images on their television: planes flying into the sides of the Twin Towers,
smoke, screams, panic, the collapse of buildings, more screams, sirens, more
panic, the urgency in the reporters’ voices, and bellowing black smoke
and lapping flames shooting from the Pentagon. Their 17-month-old daughter watched,
too, sitting amongst her toys on the floor, her large innocent eyes glued to
the violent images. Within an hour, she began to whine and wanted to be held,
and by mid-afternoon the little girl was clearly anxious and clingy, her eyes
large with fear. It finally dawned on her mother that her daughter had been watching
the television screen, too. After that, the parents no longer watched the news
when she could see it.
Here is another look at how kids process information at different ages.
-Your eight year-old is away at camp. He gets a letter from home that informs
him that the dog was hit by a car and died.
-Your four-year-old child comes home from daycare and you sit him down and tell
him that the dog was hit by a car and died.
-Your two-year-old child is standing out in the front yard and witnesses a car
run over the family dog. The dog whines, cries and dies as it messes itself and
bleeds a big bloody spot in the middle of the road, all the while the child watches
with wide eyes.
Which do you think is going to have the most profound impact on the child? Obviously,
the violent visual imagery is much more harmful to the child, because of the
age at which each child processes the information and because of the visual nature
of the information.
violence: We are biologically primed to seek survival data
is the slave that pays."
King Henry IV
The International Committee
of the Red Cross took a handful of experts to Geneva, Switzerland, for a conference
on the impact of media violence on atrocities worldwide.
One of the attendees was a British biologist who discussed how living creatures
are biologically primed to learn certain things at specific ages. For example,
if a little bird does not hear its species’ song in the first year of its
life, it will never sing it later. This is because the bird is primed to learn
only one song, and if he fails to learn it when it is supposed to, it never will.
Human beings have a capacity to learn violence the same way. We do not need violence
any more than we need crack, nicotine or alcohol, but if we are exposed to it
at a young age we become hooked. Humans are biologically primed to seek survival
data, and violence is the ultimate survival data. What is the one event on the
playground guaranteed to draw every child like a magnet? A fight. Children fight
to see a fight, because if there is violence in their environment, they must
witness it so they can adapt to it as quickly as possible.
Your brain, a self-programming computer that fills the space between your ears,
is designed to help you survive. You do not have strong limbs, deadly fangs or
sharp claws, but you do have a brain, and your survival depends on it adapting
quickly to changes in your environment. If violence occurs in your presence,
you have to learn to run or use violence in self-defense. Most kids run, or they
become fearful and depressed. A few, however, learn to adapt to violence, and
to use it.
When a boy between the ages of two and five watches his father beat his mother
every night, he probably learns to hate that behavior and to hate his father.
Fifteen years later, when he is grown and has a wife and kids, it is probable
that under stress he will beat his wife, too.
We know that not every kid who watches his father beat his mother will grow up
to be a spousal abuser, but that kid is more likely to repeat the behavior than
one whose father did not abuse his mother. This is because any behavior observed
in the first six or seven years of a kid’s life is hard to unlearn. As
the child’s brain develops, Mother Nature is a harsh gardener, pruning
the unused, fertilizing the useful. That seven-year-old does not hide his eyes
as his father strikes his mother, but he huddles in the corner, watching and
learning. His biological drive for survival and to adapt to his environment demands
that he watch and learn.
Once puberty begins, a second biological drive kicks in, one that is immensely
attractive: sex. Procreation. Say you show a porno movie to a three-year-old;
don’t do it, it’s not good for him, but the truth is that the kid
could care less. He would just flip to another channel since the images wouldn’t
mean anything to him. Show porn to a 12-year-old, however, and he is riveted.
His heartbeat goes up, his respiration goes up, and other things go up. He has
an immediate and profound biological response to the pornographic images. Violent
visual imagery is to a two-year-old as pornography is to a 12-year-old. The two-year-old
boy’s heartbeat goes up, his respiration goes up, and he is riveted. It
is what he is biologically primed to seek.
I had an opportunity to talk with one of the vice presidents at Random House,
the publisher of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. He told me that he believes
that television is the single greatest threat to the book industry today. When
television viewing goes up, reading goes down. When the number of television
channels goes up, the number of newspapers goes down. We spent 5,000 years struggling
to become a literate society and now, for the first time in history, we are stepping
I had the occasion to be interviewed by Katie Couric on NBC’s The Today
Show. She looked at me with those big eyes (which were kind of ... distracting)
and asked, “Colonel, I watched all that stuff when I was a kid and I’m
not a killer. Why should I worry about my kids?”
I said, “Katie, when I was a kid I never buckled my seatbelt and I’m
just fine. So why should I buckle up my kids?”
“Oh,” she said.
Although she was playing the devil’s advocate, there are many parents who
live by that logic. Imagine some bubba from my home state of Arkansas driving
through your state with his kids in the backseat, unbuckled and bouncing around
like high-speed molecules. A police officer pulls him over, and says, “Sorry,
but I’m going to have to give you a ticket because your kids are not buckled
in. It’s the law.” Not surprisingly, my homeboy is going to try to
get out of that ticket with a little Arkansas logic. “Well, officer,” he’ll
say, “When I was a kid I never buckled my seatbelt and look at me. I’m
just fine. In fact, everybody I know never buckled their seatbelts. And I bet
you never buckled your seatbelt, and look at you. You’re just fine, too.” Do
you think that logic will get him out of a seatbelt ticket? I don’t think
so either. In fact, ol’ Bubba should get two tickets: one for not buckling
his kids in and the other for, being “felony dumb,” as we call it
I have to admit that at one time I was felony dumb. I heard about the issue of
media violence years ago, but I just ignored it. I thought that since it had
not hurt me why should I worry about it hurting my kids. Today, I look back and
I am ashamed of what I let my kids watch. By the grace of God they turned out
all right. Most kids do, in spite of us. But what a stupid risk!
It is important that we learn from our mistakes. My mom did. She never buckled
us kids into our seatbelts and we turned out okay. But when my mom had grandbabies,
she “got religion.” One time when my kids were little she came to
visit me. I was a tough paratrooper then, a sergeant, a man of the world. I went
to the airport to pick up my mama, as my two little boys bounced around in the
backseat. The first thing she did after she got in the car was to try to take
charge. She turned to me, and said, “Dave, buckle those babies up.” Well,
I figured I didn’t have to take that anymore, so I said, “But ma,
you never buckled us up when we were kids and --” Bam! She smacked me right
up side of the head. End of discussion!
That is the kind of grandparent I am going to be. No, I am not going to thump
them, but I will bribe them. My wife and I have cut a deal with our kids and
they fully agree. We are going to pay them $1,000 a year towards the grandbabies’ college
funds for every year they promise to keep them television-free for the first
six or seven years of their lives. I admit this might be over-the-top, but if
they can keep those kids violence free, we will have done wonders for them during
these most impressionable years.
When the military wants to put together an effective PSYOPs message, they often
go to those who make commercials, the people on Madison Avenue. In the field
of behavioral sciences, more money has been invested in designing commercials
than in any other. It is not a perfect science. If it were, we would all be eating
Big Macs three times a day, but it is not for a lack of trying. Madison Avenue
has spent billions of dollars to determine the right color and shape of a product,
the most effective number of times to show the commercials, and the right flicker
rate to ensure that your child walks away from the television screen with two
things in his mind: a desire to overeat and dissatisfaction with his possessions.
Besides a pronounced reduction in violence, the Stanford Study showed two other
interesting side effects when television viewing was eliminated for a semester:
A significant decrease in obesity and a decrease in nagging parents for toys.
There is a national problem of obesity among our kids, not only because they
sit on their chubby tails for long periods doing nothing but watching television,
but also because they are victims of junk food commercials. While there are numerous
studies that link television viewing with obesity, there is no study that shows
a link between obesity and playing video games. The key factor in the equation
is that they sit and watch television commercials that advertise tantalizing
burgers, shakes, sugarcoated cereals, fat-laden chips, and sugar-saturated sodas.
Television gives our kids massive amounts of toxic and addictive violence and
tweaks their minds with sophisticated psychology to make them overeat and feel
a sense of dissatisfaction with their possessions. It is imperative that we protect
them during the first six or seven years of their lives.
role models and an explosion of violent girls
woman, woman! when to ill thy mind
Is bent, all hell contains no fouler fiend."
The Odyssey (Pope transl.)
Why do you think males are the biggest perpetrators of violent behavior?
Testosterone poisoning? That might very well be part of the reason, but
arguably a more significant factor comes from the impact of role models.
At about the age of two, a little boy and a little girl look at their
naked selves in a mirror and discover their specific sexes (wow, look
at that!). Shortly after this discovery, they start seeking same-sex
role models, and they usually find it in the media. The little boy turns
on the television and he sees male behavior manifested in violence. When
he sees this depicted repeatedly on the tube, he begins to think that
that is what the male species is all about.
Females are most often depicted in the media as passive and helpless
victims. When a little girl sees that over and over, that behavior becomes
a role model
to her. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, last produced in the 1990s,
were the last generation of all-male preschool violent role models. They were
replaced with the Power Rangers, half of which were females. Let’s call
it gender equity in preschool violent role models. That generation grew up with
the Power Rangers, which cocked and primed them for Xena the Warrior Princess
and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and many others.
It was even predicted a few years ago that there would be an increase in violent
behavior by young females from their exposure to the bombardment of violent,
female role models in the media. Well, the best measure of a scientific theory
is its power to predict. In just 10 years, from 1990 to 1999, the aggravated
assault rate for juvenile males went down five percent, while the juvenile female
aggravated assault rate took a 57 percent hike. Juvenile weapons violations for
males went down seven percent, but for females it went up 44 percent. Why are
these numbers so dramatic?
To answer that, consider what the tobacco industry did. For years, they primarily
marketed tobacco to males but then one day the ad men said, “Wait a minute.
Half the population out there isn’t smoking as much as they should. We
need to hit them, too.” So, they started marketing to females and, a few
years later, there was a resultant explosion of cancer among women. It was even
predicted that if there were an increase in smoking among females that their
cancer rates would soar. A few years later, it was predicted that if there were
an increase in violent female role models in the media, violent female behavior
would soar--and it did.
Kids, the Internet and bombs
childhood shows the man,
As morning shows the day."
Today, we are seeing a dramatic increase in incidents of planted explosives and
suicide/homicide bombers causing massive death and destruction in war torn countries.
Is it likely that international terrorists will do the same thing in the United
States? I am afraid so, and I am afraid that we are going to see it perpetrated
by homegrown terrorists, too.
With all the aforementioned violence enablers in place for our kids, we are going
to see bloodletting manifest itself in new ways. The future is bombs, and the
kids are going to get the information to make them from the Internet. Once an
angry, sick kid downloads the simplistic instructions, he will go to Radio Shack
to buy the electronic means, and to another store to buy a propane tank and a
candle. That is all he needs to blow up his ex-girl friend’s house, or “pay
back” the kids who bullied him at school and anyone else who happens to
be in the vicinity.
While it may be impossible to keep the information and tools out of kids’ hands,
we must make every effort to understand what is in their heads and hearts. We
know that the goal of every terrorist is media coverage, and to get it they need
a body count. With that in mind, consider that video games are won by accumulating
points. At the start of most games the player is armed with a knife or pistol,
and if the player kills enough people, the kid is rewarded with bigger weapons.
When he advances to the upper levels of the game, he is given the ultimate in
weaponry: bombs, rocket launchers, grenades and grenade launchers, sticks of
dynamite, barrels of gunpowder, and pipe bombs, instruments to kill large quantities
of people all at one time. Once they have worked up to a place where they have
killed in mass, the game is still not over. Now they use their arsenal of guns
to kill whoever is left standing.
The old model terrorist, such as the IRA, planted bombs and then quickly departed
the area. In Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh left a bomb at the Federal Building
and then walked away. Today, there is a new generation of killers who are inspired
by video games, and they too will plant bombs, but then they probably will not
just walk away. Case in point: If it were not for one flaw in their bombs, the
Columbine High School shooters would have caused death and destruction of unthinkable
proportions. Their plan was to detonate large propane tank bombs in the cafeteria
to kill a mass of kids, and then use guns and secondary bombs to kill the survivors
when they fled out the exits. Their goal was to kill everyone in the school.
One subtle flaw in their bomb making techniques prevented this video game-scripted
model from making that tragedy many times worse than it was.
While we should feel relief that they failed to get the huge body count that
they desired, we cannot sit back and get too comfortable, because the mistakes
made at Columbine have been analyzed and corrected. The investigating fire chief
at Columbine told me that within a week of the shooting there were web sites
around the world identifying errors the Columbine killers made in building their
bombs--and correcting them.
Our violent future: Respond with caution
" We will
not anticipate the past; so mind, young people, --our retrospection will all
be to the future."
- Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Since Columbine, there have been several cases of kids with bombs and guns caught
by the police before they could inflict massive death in their schools. There
will be more attempts, and some will succeed. Police, teachers and emergency
crews need to be courageous and rescue the wounded, but they need to do so with
great caution and with security in place. They need to be alert for a gunman
in the middle of the kill zone with a shotgun, or an entrenched sniper gunning
There are two lessons regarding bombs that we all need to learn and apply. First,
whether the scene is a workplace or a school, never evacuate into a parking lot.
Car bombs are the most simplistic type of explosive. While a killer might be
able to sneak a 20-pound bomb into a school in a backpack, a car parked next
to the building can hold and hide hundreds of pounds of explosives. Do you remember
the car bomb at the Sari nightclub in Bali that killed nearly 200 people in October
of 2002? This is why people need to be cautious about evacuating a school every
time it receives a bomb scare. There will be lives lost should a bomb explode
inside a school, but if everyone then rushes out into a parking lot, a well-placed
car bomb could kill vast numbers of people, with a sniper picking off any remaining
survivors. If students must be evacuated into a parking lot, make it the faculty
lot. The second lesson is to stay away from any vehicle, box, bag, pipe, or freshly
upturned dirt, objects and locations where secondary explosives might have been
planted to continue the carnage.
Paranoia? Over the top? Not at all. These two lessons were learned at the price
of blood and lives in nations such as Israel, England, Ireland, Spain, France
and Russia. The most significant terrorist act in human history--September 11,
2001--happened to us on our watch in our lives. We must be ever vigilant to more
possibilities. School violence could be worse than it already is, but now kids,
teachers, administrators, parents and police officers are all working together
to do the right thing. Concerned people are hurling themselves on this grenade
and trying desperately to contain it.
The majority of kids in our schools are good, but the kids who are bad are the
worst we have ever seen. We did it to them; we allowed it to happen, but it is
not too late. Education is the most important solution strategy, and if we teach
kids about the unhealthy impact of violent media and encourage them to turn it
off, it will have an enormous impact. We know this from the results of the Stanford
Study and others.
Many of our so-called problem kids do not live with their parents but are in
the custody of juvenile parole and probation services or a foster parent by court
order. On my web site, www.killology.com, there is a link to a model juvenile
parole and probation order written by a judge. When the judge writes such an
order, he not only has the authority to mandate appropriate media viewing for
the kid, he has the responsibility to do so. Remember, the Stanford Study and
others done in Canada revealed that the more violent the kid, the greater were
the results when the viewing of violent movies, television and video games was
Making the media link: Ask what they watch
Find out the
cause of this effect,
Or rather say, the cause of this defect.
Police officers investigating crimes committed by kids or even
by mentally disturbed adults who have committed, say, massive workplace shootings,
should ask the perpetrators
if their crime reminded them of a specific video game, television program or
movie. They should not be asked if they were inspired by a movie or a video game,
as that often makes them angry. Many of them have great pride in what they have
done and they do not want to give credit elsewhere. For example, when the detective
in the Paducah, Kentucky, school shooting case asked the young shooter if he
was inspired by the movie Basketball Diaries, the kid became enraged. Later,
he told his psychologist, “This is the only real adventure I’ve ever
had and now they are trying to accuse me of being a copycat.” The two Columbine
high school killers even said in their videotape that no one should think they
are copycats. “Those other kids were the copycats,” they said, “We
had this idea first.”
These killers denied they were copycats because deep inside they know they were.
The detective in Paducah backed off and then came back with a softer and slightly
different approach. “What movie was it like?” he asked, and just
like that the kid connected the dots. That is the key question officers should
ask: What video game or what movie was it like?
research: The final nail in Hollywood’s coffin
time you find your child playing a violent video
game or watching an action movie, think. Because
you want them to be able to do so."
- Center for Successful Parenting
on Indiana University Brain Scan Study
The final nail in Hollywood’s coffin
will be the brain scan studies that are now coming out
Once upon a time I could show you two X-rays: one of
a smoker’s lung, and
one of a healthy lung. End of discussion.
Now I can show you two brains scans: one of a healthy child, and one of a child “whacked
out” from media violence. End of discussion.
This research has been replicated in Texas and Japan, and as time goes by we
will see more and more of it, but the true pioneer in this field was the Center
for Successful Parenting, which funded the brain scan research conducted by the
Indiana University Medical Department. Not that this is medical research. I cannot
over emphasize how important it is that we listen to the AMA and not Hollywood
or the video game industry. When it comes to our children’s health we must
listen to the medical professors, not the journalism professors.
I’d like to tell a little story to demonstrate how foolish I think it is
to give any credibility to the industry that sells this stuff, or to the journalist
or the sociology professor, instead of listening to the medical profession.
A police officer told me about two felons fleeing in a car. When the police finally
got the car stopped there were cops in front of the suspects’ car, so if
it pulled forward it would be a clear deadly force threat. The officer said that
he went up to the driver’s side window with his gun drawn. It was a hot
day and the windows were open, so he commanded to the driver, “Stop the
car or I will shoot.”
I distinctly heard the guy in the passenger
seat say, “Go
ahead, man. He won’t shoot.” So the car started
to pull forward and “Blam! Blam!” I put two
holes in the driver. Then I distinctly head ‘Einstein’ in
the passenger seat say, “Whoa! Sorry man.”
The moral of the story is this: Be very
careful who you get your advice from. If you are
getting advice about
the health effects of screen violence from Hollywood,
the TV industry, the video game industry, the journalism
professor, or the sociology professor, then you are about
as “swift” as the driver in that car.
So listen to what the Indiana University Medical Department’s
brain scan research has to tell us. The following is
an extract from the Center
for Successful Parenting brochure designed to inform the public about this
VIOLENT MEDIA EXPOSURE HAS A NEGATIVE
EFFECT ON YOUR CHILD’S BRAIN
You probably think that the video game your child is playing every afternoon
isn't affecting their behavior. Think again. Researchers at the Indiana University
School of Medicine recently conducted a study that demonstrated otherwise.
Over a two-year period, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine
studied two groups of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17.
The first group was made up of normal teenagers. The second group consisted of
teenagers who had been diagnosed with disruptive brain disorder or DBD. A DBD
diagnosis is given to children who have shown significant aggressive behavior
and resistance to authority. Subjects from the two groups were paired according
to age, gender and IQ.
In step one of the study, the teenagers and their parents were surveyed about
the teenagers exposure to violence in video games, movies and television.
Some of the teenagers had viewed a lot of media violence throughout their
lives and some had viewed very little.
In step two, the teens were tested in a very sophisticated MRI, called fMRI.
The fMRI produces pictures of the activity in the logical part of the
brain, the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain produces what we
think of as adult behavior.
The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for controlling behavior, moderating
impulsive urges, thinking about future consequences and decision-making.
If children do not fully develop their pre-frontal cortex, they can become
The brain scans
The following two sets of the fMRI pictures or brain scans show the differences
in brain activity between teenagers who had been exposed to a lot of
media violence and those who had been exposed to very little.
To understand the pictures, you need to know that the scans on the left are
teens with low exposure to media violence and the scans on the right are
teens with high exposure. The larger the red area and the deeper the red
color, the more brain activity is occurring in the logical, adult part of
This is the area that parents want to develop in their children. Conversely,
the smaller the red area and the lighter the color, the less brain activity
is taking place.
The video game
This set of scans shows brain activity when the teenagers were viewing a
video game inside the fMRI. The low media exposure teens are using more
of the logical part of their brains than the high exposure teens.
This set of scans shows brain activity during a decision making exercise,
called Go-No-Go. When it comes to looking into the future, weighing consequences
and making decisions, the low media violence exposure group is using
a lot of the logical part of their brain; the high media violence exposure
group is using very little.
After studying and comparing all of the brain scans of all the teenagers,
what did the researchers conclude?
The most surprising result was that normal teenagers with a high amount of
exposure to media violence had reduced activity in the logical part of the
brain similar to those of teens with disruptive behavior disorder.
All of the teens with DBD--disruptive behavior disorder--had less activity
in the logical part of their brains than normal teens. The more violence
they had seen, the more pronounced the deficit.
The normal teens that had seen very little media violence had the most activity
in the logical part of the brain -the part that parents want to develop in
All of these results indicate that there is a correlation between the amount
of media violence children see and their ability to think logically.
Next time you find your child playing a violent video game or watching an
action movie, think. Because you want them to be able to do so.
What YOU can do as a parent
-Provide a media-free zone in your child's bedroom - no TV, video games, computer,
VCR or DVD players.
-Reduce the exposure children have to violent content in movies, TV and video
-Refuse to expose children under the age of 7 to ANY violent content in entertainment.
-Make TV viewing a family activity and have the TV in a common area.
-Turn off the television before school.
-Don't let your children play violent video games. Check www.moviereports.org
for reviews of video games.
-Know the content of movies before your child goes to the theater. Check www.moviereports.org for information on violence, sexual content and language in movies.
-Don't let a child under the age of 17 go to an “R” rated movie.
-Monitor your child's use of the Internet. Don't let your child have unlimited
access to the Internet.
-Get involved in the Parents Awareness Campaign. All 70 million families in America
must become aware of this national health hazard - your child is not really safe
until they and their friends are media violence free.
This was just the conclusions based on “Phase One” of
a major, three phased research project. More information will be available
Center for Successful Parenting (CSP) Web site, www.sosparents.org, in the
years to come. For now it is sufficient to know that the CSP has concluded
-Media violence stunts,
or "retards," kids' brain development:
Kids with violent TV, movie, and video game exposure had reduced cognitive
makes violent brains: Violent TV, movies, and video game exposure had an
effect on normal kids
that made their brain scans the same as kids with documented,
diagnosed Disruptive Behavior Disorder.
future: peace warriors and a reckoning for the media
sometimes glimpses on my sight,
Through present wrong the eternal right;
And, step by step, since time began,
I see the steady gain of man"
- John Greenleaf Whittier
Chapel of the Hermit
Kids’ access to violent media is not the only factor attributing to raging,
escalating violence. There is also child abuse, poverty, gangs, drugs, breakdown
of moral structure, lack of moral training, easy access to weapons, and mental
illness. These are all factors, too. Keep in mind, though, what Ted Turner and
the American Academy of Pediatrics say is the most “remediable,” the
most “significant” factor: media violence. Yes, you can just turn
media violence off in your house, but there will be millions of other households
where kids are watching it because their parents allow them to. They are watching
it because it is available to them.
The good news is that we have a joint, moral responsibility to fix this wrong
and we are working hard to get more and more people to join the fight with us.
One hundred years ago it was legal to sell alcohol to a nine-year-old and the
alcohol industry did exactly that, and they even murdered people in their battle
to keep doing it. Fifty years ago it was legal to sell tobacco to a six-year-old
and the tobacco industry did, and they had an army of people battling any law
that would keep tobacco out of the hands of kids. Why was the tobacco and alcohol
industry working so hard to keep selling their product to underage customers?
Money. The younger the consumers are when exposed to the toxic and addictive
substances, the more likely they are to have an addictive response for a lifetime.
Today, television, movie and video game industries are doing the same thing as
they sell their toxic and addictive substance to kids. Just as tobacco manifested
in an explosion of cancer and heart disease, media violence has manifested itself
into the most violent times in peacetime history. Even if we could stop all the
media violence today, it would take at least 15 years to see long-term, positive
results, though we would experience an immediate impact, just as was found in
the Stanford Study when television viewing was curtailed for one semester.
I truly believe we are on the threshold of positive change, but it is going to
take time. The brain scan research findings are coming out and schools across
America are embracing the Stanford Study and investing themselves in it. Their
curriculum has been released nationwide and is available to anyone in any school.
To win this battle we need peace warriors. We have peace officers in America
and we have peacekeepers in distant lands. We have activists, educators, students
and parents, all working together for peace. You have a choice between the culture
of death, or the side of the peace warriors. Chose your side.
The peace warriors will succeed, and for those who sold death and destruction
to our children there will be a reckoning. But first there will be many violent
years in front of us, years that will make what we have experienced thus far
pale in comparison. We can survive those years, but to do so we need educated,
informed warriors. Warriors who remember the dead children they have held in
their arms and who understand the causes of violence in our society.
For they are the sparrows around God’s door,
He will lift them up in His own great banner.
But the folks who made them suffer so sore,
He will deal with them in a different manner.
- Stephen Vincent Benet