Daphne White's urgent mission runs along an uphill road. As founder of The Lion & Lamb Project, (www.lionlamb.org.) a four-year-old initiative to inform parents about the effects of violent entertainment and toys on children, Ms. White views Christmas marketing as the biggest hill of all.
"The toy manufacturers spend millions in ads promoting violent toys this time of year," she says, "and then they say it is up to the parents to say no to their kids. Part of our role is to let parents know they are not isolated."
To push against the marketing tide, White offers a four-pronged campaign. She circulates a Christmas toy list among parents called, "The Dirty Dozen: 12 Violent Toys to Avoid." She promotes a list of acceptable toys, works with 12 communities in the US to hold "violent toy turn-ins," and offers parents a "Parent Action Kit" filled with ideas, strategies, and research. And she conducts parent workshops. "People say to me that they grew up watching cowboys and Indians fight, and look at me, I'm not a murderer," says White during a TV interview from her office in Bethesda, Md. "I tell them this is a different time with much more violence in all parts of the culture. The merchandising of violence did not exist then the way it does now."
White cites the conclusions of Leonard Eron, former chairman of the American Psychological Association's Commission on Violence and Youth as vital to understanding why parents should act. "After 40 years of research," Mr. Eron says,"there is little doubt that television is a cause of aggression."
While there are many causes of aggression, he says, violence in TV and movies is a cause that parents can directly control. White suggests parents reduce the number of TV sets in the home, cut down on the number of hours children watch TV, and decide ahead of time what they watch after completing their homework.
"Be tough," says White. Establish a "no complaining-no-kidding" rule that means that each day the children argue or whine about the new rules means another day of no TV at all. "Marketing to children on TV tries to drive a wedge between parents and children," says White. "Kids cry and have fits, but parents have to say 'no,' and tell them why. If they don't explain, nobody else will, not people on TV or in the movies."