Young kids and the war

Elise T. Chisolm

April 02, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

HE TOLD ME he didn't miss watching any of the Persian Gulf war. He's 8 years old and he was home with the flu during part of the war, so he got to watch a lot of CNN.

He is also a latchkey kid since both his parents work, so he tells me: ''I'd come home from school in time for the briefings. My favorite part was the performance of the tanks, they did much better than expected.

''Of course, I worried about those night-vision goggles that kept falling off the helmets of the guys, but in general we were super.''

At first I was appalled at how much he knew. He discussed weaponry like a four-star general and explained the difference in missiles. But then what was I to expect. He watches about seven hours of television a day.

I asked him if he had always looked at violence with so much interest.

And he said, ''Sure, I really like 'Hunter,' and 'In the Heat of the Night' is pretty good.''

Now I am wondering if this child will become more prone to violence as gets older, or will he become ambivalent and more apathetic toward blood and guts.

Because of the ''telewar,'' will he crave more violent movies and video?

Well, what do we really expect in a country that now has so many murders and handguns that kids see killing in their own neighborhoods. During the ground offensive in the Persian Gulf, more Americans were killed in their own cities than on the battlefields.

So how will war's violence play on the child whose intellectual curiosity is not fully formed?

Ian Cohen, principal of Chinquapin Middle School in Baltimore, says, ''Our teachers say they have not noticed a change in behavior patterns, due, I think, to our good instructional component on the war; we discussed every phase of the conflict in all our classes, and we let the children talk out their anxieties and frustrations.

''We had a woman soldier who had returned come to talk to us. We hung yellow ribbons, we rallied behind the troops after the bombings started.

''To tell you the truth, I think kids are more immune to television violence. The recent rash of robberies in our city and the crime they see on the city streets, they take it as a matter of course, and that's bad. Our violence is here on the home front.''

And Charles Hauss, vice principal of Lakeland Middle School in the city, adds: ''Every morning over the public address system I talked to the children about the war; we monitored and explained it. But I don't think kids from 11 to 14 really understand war. The war just hasn't impacted yet.

''In general I think when children grow up in an unsafe environment where there are hand guns, drugs, violence and inadequate health care, well, those things should be our greatest concerns.

''The economic picture on the streets of our cities -- that is our real war.''

Dr. Carole Lieberman, a media psychiatrist and script consultant in Los Angeles, answers some questions:

''Even before the war, children were being left alone to watch television, from the latchkey kid to the child whose parent is watching with her or him.

''It is sad, because statistics were proving that before the Persian Gulf conflict there was finally a decrease in television violence -- the industry was cooperative with parents and educators.

''Now comes the war," Lieberman continued, "and kids went from feeling powerless and lonely to feeling powerful again -- we were winning!

''Kids became desensitized to violence during a war. The U.S. looked like the big parent. How did we solve our conflict? By bombing the enemy to death. Certainly this war will proliferate war games and more violent behavioral problems.''

The sale of war toys was up during the recent conflict.

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