- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

In the wake of the massacre at Virginia Tech last week, Americans have restarted decades-old debates that almost always seem to reinvent the wheel when a little common sense is in order, suggests Thomas Blagburn, a D.C.-based youth violence consultant who was head of the city’s community policing programs before his retirement.

“Every time we have these events that astound us even more than the one before, we sit back and put blame and debate the same issues and we don’t do anything until the next time, when [we debate] all over again.”

The Tech killer reportedly watched a lot of television alone. Given his rabid ranting (please stop elevating his writings to a manifesto), Seung-hui Cho viewed himself as a victim as much as the victimizer he ultimately became.

It is nothing new to suggest that violent programming on television, in music and in video games begets more violence, especially in impressionable young minds. Even media mogul Ted Turner once said, “TV is the single most significant factor contributing to violence in America.”

Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission issued a long-overdue report that says Congress could draft anti-TV-violence legislation that would not infringe on First Amendment free-speech rights as a way of reducing children’s exposure to violence.

It’s going to be hard to pull back that bloodstained curtain. About the only thing on television are bloody shows about people committing crimes, such as “CSI” and “Law and Order,” and bloody shows about patching up the crime victims, such as “E.R.” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

As Mr. Blagburn said, “The American culture has been steeped in violence throughout its history.” And, the way we teach people to deal with their problems under this “might-makes-right” mentality is to react in a violent way, preferably with weapons.

Coincidentally, in the same week that the FCC released its research findings and recommendations to Congress, organizers of the Center for Screen Time Awareness — I didn’t make that up, really — are putting on 17,000 national “TV-Turnoff Week” events this week.

Duh? Several things come to mind immediately. First, do we really need expensive research studies to tell us what we can witness with our own eyes? Second, do we really need these Band-Aid laws to get us to turn off the trash? Third, the entertainment industry needs to start policing itself. Better truth-in-packaging labels might be a good start. There is a time and place for free artistic expression, just not for everyone, everywhere. Seen a cartoon lately?

According to the TV-Turnoff Week folks, the average American child spends more time in front of a television set in a year (1,023 hours) than in school (900 hours).

The mission of the Center for Screen Time Awareness is to “provide information so people can live healthier lives in functional families in vibrant communities by taking control of the electronic media in their lives, not allowing it to control them.”

“Who has the remote control?” Sound familiar? Well, adults should.

The project leaders, who also argue the connection between excessive television watching and the increase in childhood obesity, want parents to limit viewing to one hour a night. Instead of sitting in front of the tube snacking, they suggest the “family TV hour” that the FCC would like to have legislated be transformed into the family exercise or activity hour.

This organization also has conducted a study linking the increase in bullying to watching violence-laden TV shows.

“When it comes to children’s behavior, it is abundantly clear that excessive screen time is just what the doctor didn’t order,” the turnoff group says. Further, in addition to models of violent and aggressive behavior, television “reduces children’s interaction with real people.”

The turnoff network also quotes Frederick Zimmerman of the University of Washington School of Public Health, who released a study concluding that “among 4-year-olds, each hour of daily television time corresponds to a 9 percent increase in their risk of bullying others at school.”

Surely, I’ve mentioned it before that my children were not allowed to watch television on school nights. Period. We restricted what they viewed whether we were in the family room with them or not. Note that my children were in high school before they were allowed to have a small television in their own rooms, and that’s because the sets were gifts from a doting great-aunt.

Maybe that’s an old-fashioned attitude by today’s standards. I maintain that children look to their parents or guardians for guidelines, and it is adults’ responsibility to set down basic rules of conduct and behavior that we should all learn to live by.

The FCC report indicates that long-term exposure to violence on the tube can lead to more aggressive behavior in children. The agency’s suggestions to give parents more tools to limit their children’s exposure to violent programming include asking cable companies to sell their programming on per-channel or a family-tier basis, rather than prebundled packages. Also, broadcast networks could create a family-viewing hour or be barred from airing violent content during certain hours in the same manner that sexual conduct is handled now.

Apparently, the involuntary electronic methods, such as the V-chip, are not working.

Here’s an even easier suggestion, grown folks: Turn off the television, confiscate the IPod, disconnect the cell phone and institute “family quiet time,” if you dare.

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