- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2001

Rationing TV, videotapes and video games can decrease children's aggressiveness, says a study released in today's issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

More than 1,000 studies have already shown that when children watch violent media they become more aggressive, but few studies have asked whether reducing media use would reduce aggressive behavior.

This study is the first to show that aggressive behavior can be unlearned by reducing media exposure, said Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif., the lead author and an assistant professor of pediatrics.

The study involved about 200 third- and fourth-graders in two San Jose, Calif., public schools during the 1996-97 school year.

About 100 students in one school received six months of classes on media influence and "intelligent" usage. Researchers trained classroom teachers to lead the program.

Later, the children were asked to abstain from TV, videotapes and video games for 10 days and then limit their use of these things to seven hours a week. Their parents had their televisions hooked up to a device that could prevent it from being turned on if the child exceeded a pre-established limit.

Students in the other school were part of a control group and received no intervention.

All of the children, their parents, teachers and professional observers tracked children's behaviors during the study.

By the end of the study, the children who got the classes and limited their use of media reported about 25 percent fewer acts of aggression and half the amount of teasing, threatening and taunting on the playground, compared with those in the control group.

This means that reducing television viewing "really will work to decrease kids' aggressive behavior," said Dr. Robinson.

Dr. Robinson and his colleagues are now doing a study in 12 California schools to see if the media classes lead to reduced aggression.

In an accompanying editorial, James Garbarino of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., cautioned against "blaming" the media for children's aggressiveness.

"Television, video games, movies, guns, child maltreatment, unresponsive schools, inadequate mental services, spiritual emptiness, psychoactive substances, economic inequality; is there anyone among us without responsibility? I think not," said Mr. Garbarino, author of "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them."

Instead, he said, "it is up to us all" to acknowledge a shared responsibility for the problem and find solutions together.

"The media is only one factor," agreed Dr. Michael Brody, chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

He applauded the Robinson study's use of a media curriculum.

"To me the answer is … learning about media in school," said Dr. Brody. "Kids will remember it … it's a life skill."

Adults can help deter aggression by taking charge of media at home and "being better role models" for their children, said Dr. David Fassler, a child psychiatrist in Burlington, Vt., who heads the American Psychiatric Association's council on children, adolescents and their families.

"If you want your kids to watch less TV, you can start by watching less TV yourself," he said.

Parents can also revise the pace of their families' lives to leave more time and energy for interactive activities such as clubs, lessons and trips to museums, said Dr. Fassler. Otherwise, there's a tendency to work long, hard hours but then "use TV as a way to 'come down' " from the day, he said.

The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine is part of the Journal of the American Medical Association's family of journals.

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