Countering Youth Violence

Finding a solution to youth violence in the United States needed no fresh urgency. But the school shootings yesterday in Conyers, Ga., push the issue even higher on the national agenda.

No one was killed in Georgia, unlike the terrible tragedy at Littleton, Colo., a month earlier. But the pattern, a male student taking aim at his peers, is all too familiar.

Attention now focuses even more intensely on prevention, and on the central role of parents. As the key adults in young lives, they shoulder the greatest responsibility for guiding children. But the supporting role of society is crucial too.

Parents need the disciplinary help of tools like the "V-chip" to block out violent television shows, software to screen out trashy stuff on the Web, reliable ratings on films, and a ban on the rental or sale of hyperviolent video games to children. They also need the feeling that fellow parents, officials, and educators are with them.

The recent presidential conference on youth violence and congressional hearings on the subject are useful. They add to the momentum, and should lead to action - from gun-control legislation to restrictions on advertising violent entertainment to youthful audiences.

The latter strategy is modeled, more or less, on the campaign to stop the marketing of cigarettes to kids. First Amendment objections will arise, but they should be counterbalanced by society's interest in shielding children from harmful products. Also, ad restrictions would zero in on programming clearly, or primarily, aimed at youngsters.

But what about the question of harmfulness itself? The creators and purveyors of violent films, shows, and games argue that no firm connection has been proven between their products and youthful violence.

Many researchers contend otherwise. They point to studies over many decades that establish at least some link between violent behavior and exposure to violent content on TV or in movies. With video games, the link may be less elusive. Point-and-shoot videos, derived from popular games like "Doom," are used to help soldiers overcome their aversion to killing fellow humans.

But behavior like that seen in the series of school shootings over the past year and a half springs from more than violent entertainment products. It points, most tragically, to an absence of moral sensibility. This is where the parents' role is central. Fundamentals of right and wrong must be taught in the home. Parents must pay attention to what their children are absorbing through TV, movies, the Internet, and video games.

Here, again, parents need the help of strong church communities and others concerned with helping youngsters become responsible, spiritually awake members of society. Those "others" include our political leaders, who are obligated to thoughtfully direct attention to the country's moral challenges. And, ideally, the others should also include the creative pace-setters who produce the movies, shows, and games.

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