When I was a child, my parents limited the amount of time my siblings and I could spend watching The Three Stooges, because they noticed that we were more aggressive and careless with each other’s space after a bit too much watching.
I knew at the time they were absolutely right. We were definitely tempted to imitate the slap stick behavior of those wonderful comedians. Of course it was much easier for me to notice it in my siblings than in myself!
When I had my own children, I did the same thing. When I saw them acting more aggressive towards each other after exposure to rough friends or violent media, I reminded them that imitating these behaviors was not acceptable and that exposure would be limited if they couldn’t keep the bad models in their place, as bad models.
How many wives have noticed that after watching a football game their husbands just aren’t quite as gentle and understanding as before?
Yet today there seems to be a public debate still, about whether exposure to violence foments violence. Surely each person has a limit to how far they will go even if exposed to frequent exhibitions of violence. But no one knows those limits in each person’s case, even the person themselves.
Images of violence sell. Such images sell news, books, videos, video games, TV shows, toys, and even military service and political campaigns. The thing is, violence is big business. The debate will continue because too many people have too much at stake to admit that constant exposure to violent images creates a more violent society.
It may come down to how you think humanity is put together. If you assume we are violent creatures restrained by civilization, then maybe you assume our defensive, aggressive posture is the norm and violent images aren’t really a problem, they just help people “let off steam.”
But if you think like I do that humans are basically social creatures who want to get along with the people around them and who only resort to violence when they are put in some kind of fear, real or imagined, then violent images are playing upon our fears and provoking a more fearful, defensive and aggressive approach to life than would otherwise be achieved by civilization.. Which is a sad way to be.
Surely we get an adrenaline rush from a fast paced movie, an engaging video game, or an egregious news story. But as Popeye said, Too much is enough! There are lots of other ways to feel alive, enlivened, and excited.
Studies have shown that the more children watch violent shows the more they assume that the world is a violent place and that their own lives are at risk. Isn’t that enough to suggest that they are put in fear and are more likely to feel attacked or react defensively in any given situation? Do we want their reactions to be skewed in the direction of fear, instead of realistic assessment and problem solving?
I urge parents to carefully monitor their children’s exposure to violence. And when the children are exposed, talk with them about how frequent or infrequent that particular kind of behavior is likely to be, and where and when. tell them how you feel about it. Let them be tempted to imitate your model instead of the one on the screen.
Likewise, monitor your own exposure to violence. If you are addicted to crime scene shows, you may find that you are a bit more anxious and wary when driving or quicker to take offense at others’ behavior.
Or if you watch the violent headlines on the evening news, or streaming on your computer or smart phone, you may well make assumptions about the overall state of the world which will make you feel less secure in your own surroundings. Many adults find they sleep better and are more optimistic in the morning if they skip the late night news.
Surely self-defense training is worthwhile and realistic awareness of the risks around you is valuable. But constant exposure to the worst of the behaviors of humanity is a burden we can do without. Out of over 7 billion people interacting on this earth, there are bound to be aberrant, abhorrent events happening daily. It does us little good to be familiar with all of them.
It is actually that much more important that we be the ones who try to add understanding, patience, respect, and a sense of security and comfort to the relationships around us over which we have some control.
The key is to know yourself and monitor your own behavior. If too much exposure puts you in a bad mood, skip it next time. And invite your loved ones to do the same.
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