By Dick Rolfe - CEO, The Dove Foundation
During the past 20 years at the helm of The Dove Foundation, I’ve received hundreds of letters and thousands of emails from people who either love what we do here, or who have a bone to pick with a particular movie review we’ve published. Some people think we’re too liberal while others accuse us of being rightwing nuts. In all those years, however, I’ve never had a high school freshman write to me to express concern about topic that we deal with on a daily basis – violence in media; that is until Emily Schafer wrote the following refreshingly candid letter…
Dear Mr. Dick Rolfe
Hello, my name is Emily Schafer and I am a freshman at Forest Hills Northern High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have recently become aware of the situation of media violence in the United States, and I think it’s become a problem we need to solve.
Media violence has become a very troubling issue. Violent and action-packed movies and television programs may be what the public adults want most, but our children deserve better. Especially for kids below the age of eight, it can be hard for them to distinguish the difference between fantasy and real life. This confusion can sometimes lead to violent behavior, thinking that it’s okay. However, violence is not okay.
Our country has released some startling statistics in the past few years that really shocked me. For instance, did you know that by the time a child reaches age 18, they will have seen 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders in TV programs and movies? It is also astonishing to me that about 82% of the American public believes that Hollywood movies are too violent.
As a concerned citizen, I was wondering what your organization, the Dove Foundation does to protect children from media violence. What have you done in the past? Do you plan on taking more steps in the future against media violence?
Thank you so much for your time and reading this letter. I would really appreciate a response!
I wrote back and thanked Emily for taking time to write me about a subject that is so vital to our society’s values.
I stated further that I was impressed by her passionate, intelligent arguments opposing violence in media, and that I read her letter to my staff and board of directors.
I went on to address her concern…
“You asked what The Dove Foundation does to protect children from media violence. One thing we do is encourage parents to teach their children about the importance of discernment when it comes to making their entertainment choices. Obviously, your parents are doing just that, and doing it well!
I believe your words of wisdom can be an inspiration to others to think more carefully before choosing to watch violent movies or television programs. Your point of view as a teenager can very persuasive to others of your peers.“
And this is where I extend Emily’s appeal to you parents and teenagers reading this story. Please consider seriously the research that shows a direct link between the violent media that kids are exposed to and the increased aggression they exhibit. How many times have we read a news story where a youngster committed a crime of violence to mimic something he or she saw in a movie?
Members of the Motion Picture Association are the arbiter of the movie ratings system (G, PG, PG13, R). They admit openly to revising their ratings downward occasionally to reflect the changing (read that “degrading”) social norms of society. In other words, violence that was once considered too extreme to be portrayed is now considered as mild.
An example of this effect was explained to me by a Disney executive who compared the death of Bambi’s mother in the 1942 animated classic, to that of Simba’s father in The Lion King. In Bambi, a mere gun shot off camera was enough to send most children into fits of tears knowing that Bambi’s mother had been killed by a hunter. (I know, because I was one of those children.) In The Lion King, however, animators found it necessary to show Simba nuzzling Mumphasa‘s dead body on screen in order to elicit any sympathy from youngsters in the audience. Psychologists call that affect “coarsening.”
The Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association all three consider violence in media so serious that they’ve declared it a public health problem.
I’m grateful to Emily and others like her who are becoming aware of the seriousness of the impact of violence in entertainment on our society, and particularly today’s youth.
Let’s begin by asking ourselves the question Emily posed in her letter; “What do we intend to do to protect children from media violence?”