More Parents Turn To an Old-Fashioned V-Chip: Themselves
They're finding that action can make a difference
Like many parents, Sarah Woodruff is concerned about the messages and images her children see in the media.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
So when she took her sons, ages 4 and 6, to see the movie "Fly Away Home" in Durham, N.C., she didn't foresee any problems. But then came the previews - along with Barbra Streisand screaming that she wanted sex, now. "I was cringing. I was angry," Ms. Woodruff recalls. "How come nobody thought this would be inappropriate for young children?"
Experiences like Woodruff's resonate with many parents. The media's long reach has made it difficult to shield children from messages some consider inappropriate or negative.
From car crashes and sex scenes to glamorizing drugs and hypermarketing, the effect of media images on children has caused concern for decades. Violence has raised particular ire, and for good reason: The average child viewer will see 20,000 murders and 80,000 other assaults before leaving elementary school.
But in the past several years, a groundswell of activity has grown not only to monitor media messages but to respond to and influence them.
Parents are sending protest letters to entertainment executives and analyzing TV shows with their children. Media literacy groups, as well as family and religious organizations are offering education and ratings. Many state medical associations are labeling media violence a public-health issue and launching campaigns to combat it.
"The change is in the level of awareness," says David Walsh, director of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis. Every time a major survey comes out, the percentage of parents who say they are concerned about the negative influence of media on children goes up.
But how they're responding is changing. In 1994, for example, Dr. Walsh published "Selling Out America's Children: How America Puts Profits Before Values and What Parents Can Do." What prompted him to write the book was the word "it."
"I kept hearing that word in the late '80s and '90s wherever I went," says Walsh, who conducts seminars on the subject. Parents would say things like, "There's nothing we can do about it, it is such a powerful force. I feel like we're just overmatched by it." A major part of what "it" is, he says, is mass media that influence attitudes and, in turn, values.
The most pivotal issue has been media violence. Politicians have leaned on Hollywood in response to public pressure, and gotten results: V-chip legislation has brought the discussion to the fore. Networks have been told to provide three hours per week of children's programming and are poised to rate all their shows starting in 1997.
Why? Children and teenagers spend 22 to 28 hours a week watching TV; the only thing they do more of is sleep. Prime-time viewers see an average of 150 acts of violence and about 15 murders a week.
Close to 65 percent of parents report that they limit their children's viewing time. But they can't always control what kids see.
Just ask Diane Levin. She and her family were on an airplane delayed for take-off. The Florida-bound plane was full of families. For their "viewing pleasure," they were shown a short news summary - of mass murders. "It's showing bodies, and it's showing people crying...." she recalls. Ms. Levin called a flight attendant. "Get that off," she said. "That's outrageous, there are kids on this plane." By the time they did, the show had ended.
But officials apologized and wrote it up on the flight report. "One voice can make a difference," says Levin, a professor at Wheelock College in Boston.
She finds herself saying that a lot. A child-development expert, Levin has done much research and written several books on media violence and war toys and their influence on children.