Pediatricians blast violence in the media

June 09, 1995|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MIAMI -- Joining a growing national debate, the nation's pediatricians called on the entertainment industry yesterday to tone down the violence in television, movies, music and videos.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 48,000 pediatricians, said the evidence is clear: Violence in entertainment makes some children more aggressive, desensitizes them to real-life violence and makes them feel they live in a mean and dangerous world.

"There's no debate. There is clearly a relationship between media violence and violence in the community," said Vic Strasburger, author of the pediatricians' statement and chief of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

The pediatricians want Hollywood to put parental advisories on shows and video games with violent content and use voluntary rating systems for them, to use restraint in music lyrics and videos and to limit violent material on TV to late in the evening.

They are urging movie, television and music producers to do more to portray the consequences of violence and calling on TV networks to agree to a one-day moratorium on violent programming in October.

They also called on parents to be more responsible about their children's TV habits. They say parents should see that their kids don't watch more than one or two hours of TV daily, instead of the three-plus hours that's typical for American children.

Dr. Strasburger said parents should control TV viewing and "use the VCR creatively."

"There are hundreds of educational nonviolent videos and pro-social shows," he said. "If you want to park your kid in front of the TV set, pre-record TV shows or have videos. Don't let your child play remote-control roulette."

The doctors' proposals appear in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.

They came one week after Sen. Bob Dole assailed Hollywood for flooding America with too much sex and violence and not caring about its effects on children, though the pediatricians group said its policy statement was in the works long before Mr. Dole's remarks and was the conclusion of years of study.

Dr. Strasburger singled out several examples of entertainment he described as good for children: the TV shows "Barney," "Sesame Street" and "The Magic School Bus"; the "Rabbit Ears" videos and the current movie "Little Princess."

He also cited the hugely popular "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" as a particularly violent TV show, and said children under the age of 10 often do not realize that programs like this are not real life.

And when it's the good guys who are inflicting the violence, he said, children receive a message that aggression is good.

The doctors' precise recommendations may be less significant than the fact that the doctors are adding their voice to the controversy. Physicians groups traditionally have stayed out of public debates not specifically about medicine.

But Dr. Strasburger said that pediatricians now feel that violence has become such a threat that they had to speak out.

"We're mad as hell, and we want to see positive changes," he said. "We want to see a less violent society and want to put our energy where our criticism is."

The pediatrician group is calling for voluntary changes rather than new laws, Dr. Strasburger said, because changing laws would "get into politically motivated agendas and statements."

Don Browne, president and general manager of WTVJ-Channel 4 in Miami, said it's up to parents to distinguish between good and bad TV for their children.

Although Dr. Strasburger emphasized that media violence is not the only cause of violence in American society, he said it is the one factor that can be easily remedied.

Walter F. Lambert, a pediatrician at the University of Miami School of Medicine, said he regularly tells parents that control of the TV is their responsibility. He tells parents not to buy a TV for a child's bedroom.

"[Violence] is a societal problem, but the solution to it is parental," Dr. Lambert said. "Pediatricians talk about 'preventable injuries' with parents. Violence is a preventable injury."

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