Speculate on Causes of Youth Violence Term Paper

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Sociology

Speculations on the Causes of Youth Violence

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Recent decades have witnessed a disturbing increase in instances of youth violence. The media is filled with stories of high school massacres, gang shootings, and other horrible crimes perpetrated by youngsters. Politicians and ordinary citizens have looked everywhere for the causes. Experts have been consulted. Studies have been done. The culprit appears everywhere... And yet nowhere in particular. A frequent object of attack is the media itself, specifically the entertainment media that daily and hourly assails juveniles and adults alike. Since its earliest days, critics have claimed a connection between images of violence on television and incidents of violence among young viewers. Murder, rape, and assault are the stock in trade of much popular entertainment. The theme is not limited to the small screen, but pervades movies, video games, and music, as well. From an early age, America's children are desensitized to violence, learning that offensive actions and words are appropriate responses to difficult situations. The problem is further complicated by the easy accessibility of guns and other firearms in American society. Indeed, many would argue that it is the free availability of dangerous weapons that is itself the source of the problem. The media may provide ideas, but they do not provide the means. Adults too, are to blame, for failing to provide youngsters with the proper guidance and moral training. The issue is complex - one factor or many, a combination of two, but not all three - the problem of youth violence demands a solution.

The belief that the media contributes to, or incites, violence in youths is largely attributable to current theories on the way in which children learn. Young children are highly impressionable. They model their behavior on the actions of those around them. Television shows feature characters and situation that may or may not be real. From an early age, children learn to distinguish between the "un-real" world of cartoons and the "real" world of programming that is peopled by human actors.

Term Paper on Speculate on Causes of Youth Violence Assignment

However, their ability to distinguish goes only so far. Young children are unable to make the kinds of sophisticated values judgments that are regularly made by experienced adults.

The barrage of sights, sounds, and ideas that the child imbibes via the television screen is therefore largely unfiltered - the good is received with the bad. The whole combines to form within the child's mind a picture of the world outside - the "real" world of his or her own experience. Society is described and delineated both by the adults and older children of his or her personal environment, and by the constant stream of ideas that comes through over the airwaves. George Gerbner and Nancy Signorielli analyzed twenty-two years' worth of television content (1967 to 1989) and discovered that the amount of violence featured in children's programming was three times as great as that offered in prime time. By the age of eighteen, they calculated, the average youth had seen at least 18,000 simulated murders in the course of their television viewing.

If young people imitate what they see, what kinds of actions were these images producing?

Researchers cite numerous statistics that appear to confirm a link between violence on television and violence in real life. In 1973, a town in remote, mountainous British Columbia was wired for television. Within two years, experts observed, the incidence of hitting, biting, and shoving increased a whopping one hundred sixty percent among local first and second graders.

Other studies noted a correlation between frequent viewing of violent images on television and in the movies, and violent or aggressive behavior in everyday life. In 1992, two Chicago physicians, Leonard Eron and Rowell Heusmann, testified before the United States Congress that levels of television violence watched by youngsters could actually be used as a predictor of anti-social behavior. They based their conclusions on their own twenty-two-year study of children's viewing habits.

According to these experts, violence on television desensitizes young people to the suffering of others. Young men who watched slasher films were found to be far less likely to empathize with victims of rape or sexual assault.

Apparently, they associated these real-life victims with the unfortunate prey of the fictional maniacs, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger. In those films, murder was a form of entertainment, a fate meted out to oddly deserving victims. An inability to separate the fictional stories of these victims from the true-life perils of flesh-and-blood women no doubt contributed to the lack of empathy.

Yet, many would disagree with the notion that media violence begets real-life atrocity. Parents and guardians provide far more powerful examples to children than characters on television, or in movies, or video games. Critics of the media violence theory point to absent parents and broken homes, and to a culture that does not teach respect for authority.

The media, they say, is nothing more than a convenient scapegoat for a society that lost its way, and is unable to properly socialize its children. "Although strong associations have been found between viewing violence-themed media and violent behavior, there is no conclusive evidence to show how a violent media culture may lead to violent behavior."

The images seen on television, and in movies and music videos, may appear real, but they are not - and most people know and understand the difference. Terribly violent scenes are shown as entertainment around the world, and yet do not incite viewers to commit imitative violent acts.

Degree of violence, as well, only infrequently correlates to what is seen on television.

A child may witness a thousand murders during the course of his or her childhood television viewing, but never engage in anything worse than name-calling. Violent reactions may be observed, but they may be viewed with the necessary grain of salt. The well-socialized youth will understand that the insult that prompts a gangland shooting in made for TV movie does not necessarily demand the same response in real life.

Furthermore, continue the critics, films and lyrics do not provide the means to commit violent acts - no matter how provocative the images or words may be. Guns are all too easily available on many of America's streets. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a powerful lobby, and fights vigorously against any attempt to ban or restrict access to a range of highly-dangerous weapons. Nevertheless, even the NRA maintains that, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Broader social factors play a decisive role in shaping individuals' propensities for acting out their violent thoughts. Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell attributes tragedies such as the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado to the deeper problems of changing family structure, the breaking down of communities, cynicism about government and other social institutions, the loss of a sense of genuine spirituality, anxiety over individual's self-worth, and lack of reliance on others and respect for authority.

In other words, Hallowell sees in the explosion of violence an image of American society's collapse - the individual being thrown back onto her or his own resources. This same individual is also often assaulted by masses of information from a world perceived as hostile, or unwelcoming. The media itself participates in this tearing down of traditional norms and strictures by painting a picture of a society in which nothing works properly, and in which one's sole duty is that of consumption - the role of the consumer being the only fitting expression for the "perfect" men and women that grace television commercials and magazine advertisements.

The violent and antisocial individual is only reacting to a violent and antisocial world, in which the media plays but a part.

The problem of youth violence cannot be attributed to one cause alone. The media plays its part, regaling young children and adolescents with programming that is astonishingly violent in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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