Students talk about the effect of TV violence Panel: A workshop at the Forbush School aims to help attendees find a sophisticated understanding of disturbing images in the media.

June 10, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

With years of TV and movie-viewing under her belt, Erin Hilton thinks she has a pretty good idea why images of violence can deeply affect children.

"Violence is power, and everyone wants to be powerful," said the 17-year-old, a ninth-grader at Sheppard Pratt Health System's Forbush School in Towson.

This is what organizers of the first high school Critical Viewing Workshop, held yesterday at the school, hoped to hear: a sophisticated understanding of the violence in television shows, and video games and other media. Appropriate behavior could depend on it, they say.

"There is a correlation in viewing violence in the media and behavior," said Holly Bartlett, a member of Sheppard Pratt's Coalition for Positive Media, which runs workshops like the one Hilton participated in. "We've kind of accepted the fact that violence is here, it's in our world, it's not going to go away. We want to teach them how to deal with it."

The workshop, along with a rally and lecture on the effects of media images, coincided with National Critical Viewing Day, sponsored by the cable television industry and National Parent-Teacher Association. The groups say children should learn to separate violence on the television or movie screen from real life.

The Coalition for Positive Media is hoping to accomplish this goal in the Baltimore area through interactive workshops begun about four months ago and funded by a $23,000 grant from the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention.

Some were targeted at parents. Some were designed for elementary school-aged children living in high-risk areas -- where violence is a reality, not just a TV show.

Now organizers are test-driving the message with teen-agers at Forbush.

They plan to take the workshops to other high schools in the fall, both private and public. They hope teen-agers will, in turn, learn how to educate their peers and younger students about viewing images critically.

Yesterday at Forbush, in a round-table, informal discussion punctuated by laughter and nods of agreement, a handful of teen-agers named their favorite shows and movies -- from "Homicide" and "Dawson's Creek" to "Soul Food." They explained why they liked the shows. They addressed the power of images. And they showed their media savvy.

They knew, for instance, that the average child sees 20,000 30-second TV commercials a year. And they correctly guessed that 66 percent of Americans own at least three television sets.

Gretchen Malicki, a senior, took this all in. Then she noted that one of her favorite television shows, "Seinfeld," sometimes makes her uncomfortable.

"One episode that really made me think was when George -- one of the characters -- was getting married. He had invitations for the wedding and the glue killed his fiancee, and they were like, 'Oh, well,' " said the 18-year-old. "It was funny, but it kind of was disturbing. It's like, 'Why am I laughing at this? I'm sick!' "

Doctors say it is important that young people recognize negative images because television can prompt aggressive behavior. "Children do imitate what they see," said Dr. V. Susan Villani, a child psychiatrist at the Forbush School.

Organizers hope their workshops will cut down on that. But for the Forbush participants, it was mainly a chance to have an intellectual conversation about a topic that might not come up in class.

"I thought it was interesting to get other people's views, because not something you talk about in a normal setting," said Malicki.

Pub Date: 6/10/98

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