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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Does America Have a Violence Problem?

By Peter DeWitt — January 09, 2013 5 min read
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The average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18.” Federal Communications Commission

There has been a great deal of discussion lately about allowing teachers to bring guns to school or to hire armed security guards for every school. School districts are finding themselves go from discussing BYOD to discussing BYOG. This sad time in public education should lead to a larger national discussion about violence and mental health in our society.

We need to have an honest discussion about violence in the media.

Our students are surrounded by violence. It makes its way to our television screens through police dramas and becomes a reality that we hear about on the news. We cannot watch the local news without hearing about shootings, robberies and arrests. The national news gives us violent stories from across our nation and around our world. If we choose to turn on our televisions we are at risk of breathing in toxic stories that we never seem to learn from.

According to KidsHealth and the Federal Communications Commission, “The average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18.” This is up from a 1993 study by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) that said ,”the average American child will witness 26,000 acts of violence by the age of 18.” The increase has happened because the regulation was lifted on what our students can be exposed to on television.

We all understand that watching violence does not always lead to violent acts. When we add in untreated mental health issues, an unstable home, substance abuse and other issues, students are more likely to participate in risky behavior which can include violent acts. “Laurence Steinberg, an expert on adolescence, presented a troubling array of new findings about American students in grades 7 through 12. Approximately 40 percent of the twelve thousand adolescents surveyed indicated having feelings of depression” (Ravitch. p. 4).

It’s time to discuss mental health issues in America.

Ravitch wrote,”Raising children has never been more difficult in the United States than it is today. Families, religious institutions, and communities have all weakened by a variety of forces associated with modernization and technology. The social consensus that once supported parents in projecting values they wish to teach their children has faltered. Some parents are confused by their own values, about what they should teach their children, or whether they should try to project any values at all” (2003. p.1).

We need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work -- and by that I mean armed security.” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre

Many Americans were offended by Wayne LaPierre’s comments on Friday, December 21st. However, there are a few states that already have laws in place that allow teachers to bring guns to school (Teachers Carry Guns in School). It’s also important to remember that there are inner city schools where armed guards patrol the hallways. For decades, some inner city students have had to walk through metal detectors before they can even enter school.

The aforementioned study by the NAEYC stated that, “Gun-related violence takes the life of an American child at least every three hours and the lives of at least 25 children--the equivalent of a classroomful--every three days. In 1990 alone, guns were used to kill 222 children under the age of 10 and 6,795 young people under the age of 25. Another 30 children are injured every day by guns.” That number has surely risen.

Our young children die due to gang violence in urban settings all the time and some of them were innocent bystanders caught in the line of fire. According to the N.Y. Times, gang violence is up 38% in Chicago alone (ABC News tells a Few of their stories). According to the 1993 NAEYC study, “In one Chicago public housing project all of the children had witnessed a shooting by the age of five”(Dodd, 1993).

In the End
We need to have open discussions about mental health and deal with America’s violent mentality. We need to look to the media, parents, society and what our children are allowed to watch on television. Schools are trying to teach students that fighting isn’t the answer at the same time they watch it as the only answer on television. Many parents monitor what their children see, but it seems to be getting harder and harder every year. We need children to actually be children.

Where do violent people get their ideas? They get them from the “bad guys” and “monsters” that came ahead of them and they get the ideas from the countless movies and television shows that depict this kind of violence every day. I realize I sound old fashioned but there are too many kids who play video games where they can shoot police officers and steal cars. As much as manufacturers slap an “M” for Mature on these products, kids will always try to play with the very thing that they should stay away from.

Sure, there are individuals who say they played these games and “turned out fine” and that is absolutely true. However, mix these games and images with untreated mental health issues, lack of parenting or adult supervision and there becomes a perfect storm. Perhaps that perfect storm will not lead to something as tragic as those events that have happened in schools, workplaces, malls and a recent pre-planned house on fire in Webster, N.Y. but we have seen too many heartbreaking stories that still ended in death.

Violence in America has seemingly gotten out of control and it is very complicated and the increase in violence on television isn’t helping. Those networks that support the news media so appalled by all of this violence are the same networks who create more and more graphic shows on our televisions screens and there seems to be way too many people who want to act it out in real life.

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Ravitch, Diane & Joseph P. Viteritti. (2003). Toxic Lessons: Children and Popular Culture. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, M.D.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.