What Can Be Done to Stop the Violence Among Teens?

In light of the recent shootings in the U.S., it has been interesting to read the headlines this past week showing the responses of various companies:

* “Walmart removing violent video game displays from stores and reviewing gun sale policies.” (USA Today)

” ‘The Hunt’ [movie release date] canceled by Universal following significant backlash.” (Fox News)

* “ESPN and ABC delay the airing of Apex Legends video game tournament following mass shootings.” (CNN)

With many districts returning to school around the U.S. this week–and with the growth of school shootings over the past 50 years (particularly ones perpetrated by young men in their teens and twenties)–many students and parents are calling out asking what can be done to stop the violence. As a matter of fact, a 2018 study by the American Psychological Association on the amount of stress experienced by Gen Z students found that 72% were fearful of school shootings.

The answers to the question of what causes school violence are numerous and complex. The following short excerpt from Chapter 7 of In Whose Image? focuses on one of the areas that many researchers and activists believe is controllable: the promotion and distribution of media violence that dehumanizes image-bearers of God and desensitizes teens to violence.

Excerpt from Chapter 7: How Should I Not View Others?

…To be clear, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not seek to lay total blame on media violence in any of their policy statements regarding “leading causes of any particular health concerns.” However, “epidemiologically speaking,” they note that media violence “may contribute 10 percent to 20 percent to any given problem…a considerable amount given that we potentially have more control over media than other risk factors (e.g. poverty, low IQ, mental illness).”

As the late Democratic Senator Paul Simon stated, “If even one-tenth of 1 percent are harmed, we are needlessly impressing 50,000 young people with this gratuitous electronic mayhem.” And to Senator Simon’s point, there are more than 3,500 research studies that speak to the impact of media violence on young people.

In 2000, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American Psychological Association made a joint statement to Congress regarding the link between media and societal violence:

“Viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children. Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life. Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment [such as video games] on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music.”

Since this statement was made in the year 2000, an entire generation has grown up on more realistic, ultra-violent media content—whether it be films (Halloween– 2018, The Saw series), TV-shows (The Walking Dead, Dexter), or video games (especially the popular first-person shooter series such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto). And the harmful effects teens emotional and spiritual well-being from this kind of media intake are substantial.

Consider these statistics from The Barna Group:

1. By the time an American child is 23 years old…he will have seen countless murders among the more than 30,000 acts of violence to which he is exposed through television, movies and video games.

2. By the age of 23, the average American will have viewed thousands of hours of pornographic images, which diminish the dignity and value of human life.

3. After nearly a quarter century on earth, the typical American will have listened to hundreds of hours of music that fosters anger, hatred, disrespect for authority, selfishness, and radical independence.

4. The average adolescent spends more than 40 hours each week digesting media, and the typical teenager in America absorbs almost 60 hours of media content each week. For better or worse, the messages received from the media represent a series of unfiltered, unchaperoned worldview lessons.

In 2011, brain researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine study documented that 10 hours of video game violence in a week was enough to “indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning… [and] may translate into behavioral changes over longer periods of game play.” Furthermore, in regard to video game violence, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry noted in 2015 that “while some games have educational content, many of the most popular games emphasize negative themes and promote:

• The killing of people or animals
• The use and abuse of drugs and alcohol
• Criminal behavior, disrespect for authority and the law
• Sexual exploitation and violence toward women
• Racial, sexual, and gender stereotypes
• Foul language and obscene gestures

In view of the parameters around the pornography of sex, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to the pornography of violence. Consider the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2012) which stated that the First Amendment protects violent video games. In his dissent to the ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote,

“But what sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” 

Justice Breyer’s dissent becomes even more alarming when you consider why experts believe “the mechanical, interactive quality of ‘first-person shooter” games makes them potentially more dangerous than movie or television violence.”

Why? Because “the most violent of these games use operant conditioning to teach young people to kill.” These are the same type of video games that the military and law enforcement agencies use to train new recruits to shoot and kill.

Given what you have learned in this chapter, why do you think researchers and experts should be concerned about a generation growing up on realistic, ultra-violent first-person shooter video games?

In regard to how media violence impacts people differently, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a landmark study a number of years ago outlying the four major effects of media violence on real-life violence and aggression. In addition to copycat behavior, the study demonstrated that teens could also be negatively influenced through increased exaggerated fears, the removal of inhibitions and desensitization.

While students in America are no doubt highly fearful of the copycat behavior of a Parkland High School or Santa Fe High School shooter, the overwhelming impact the APA found in regard to a heavy diet of media violence by teens is desensitization.

The flippant use of vulgar language and unacceptable treatment of others has become commonplace in a nation where such behavior is repeatedly modeled (even commended) in video games. This desensitization process (losing the ability to feel or have compassion for an individual or groups of people) is both widespread and damaging…

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart,” — 2 Timothy 2:22, ESV

Today’s culture puts a high emphasis on our physical bodies (working out, eating organic food, smoke-free environments) but very little on our hearts and minds. Teens are growing up today unaware of the impact that the pornography of sex and violence is having on them and their peers as their generation’s media diet is unparalleled in history.

That is why we need to continue to educate ourselves and others on the main cause of our continued consumption of sexual/violent pornography—our sinful nature—and ours and the world’s desperate need for the Gospel to renew our hearts and minds–transforming us into redeemed image-bearers.

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth… Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming…[So you must] put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” —Colossians 3: 2, 5-6, 10, 17, ESV.

Leave a Reply