12:00 AM, September 07, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 07, 2015
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When children kill children
Three teenage students of a madrasa who had kidnapped and murdered their classmate to get ransom from his family, stated to the police that they had been ‘inspired’ by a TV serial. The report that carried this grisly story did not give details on what exactly the TV serial had shown to influence these teenagers to become cold-blooded murderers but it does give an idea of how violent content on screen can have a deep impact on young minds. Aged between 14 and 15, the three abducted the victim, slit his throat and dumped him in a septic tank. Sounds eerily like a scene in a murder mystery series, doesn’t it? The kind many children and adolescents have easy access to through television or the internet.
There may be of course other factors contributing to teen violence and crime, especially in a society where brutality is rife in real life and where criminals often dodge the legal system with influence and money. The teenagers, who felt no guilt as they slit their classmate’s throat and asked his family for ransom after killing him while hiding him in a water tank, may well have been influenced by things other than a TV series. But if what they claim is true – that they were inspired by a TV series to commit this heinous act – it shows the impact media has on young minds. There have been other cases of teenaged victims being killed by classmates for money. Were they too encouraged by films that depicted cruelty and ruthlessness?
Abuse, violent environments, isolation and poverty are also attributed to criminal behaviour. But we cannot ignore the fact that children have become more and more exposed to violence on screen. Whether it is a TV serial, movie, cartoon or the video games they play, there is always a certain amount of violent content. What is worse is that parents and guardians seem to be oblivious of the effects this exposure may have on their children.
Scientific studies have shown that continuously watching violent films have adverse effects on young minds. They tended to become more hostile, aggressive and insensitive towards violence or helping someone in pain. This is hardly surprising considering the fact that movies/television influence us in a way no other media can. They tell us what we should be wearing, what we should be eating and even how we should be behaving. And the younger we are, the more power such media wields in shaping how we think.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that continuous exposure to violence results in the idea that violence is acceptable, that it can help solve problems. It also makes children believe and be resigned to the idea that the world is a harsh, sinister place. Watching violent scenes continuously reduces the shock value and hence, cruel acts do not seem all that cruel anymore and things like torture, brutal killings are no longer as condemnable. Empathy is therefore reduced.
In many films, aggressive behaviour, even criminality, is glamourised. Dexter, an American TV series that became quite popular even in Bangladesh, thanks to cable TV, portrays an attractive serial killer who goes around killing and then cutting up individuals he thinks are the ‘bad guys’. Bank robbers, assassins and mobsters are often shown as good looking, swanky men who seem to have it all and manage to get away with murder, literally. The protagonist in the TV series, Breaking Bad, is a fairly simple chemistry teacher who finds out he has cancer and decides to start making crystal meth to pay his hospital bills and make ends meet. Along the way, he turns into a ruthless drug peddler with no qualms about killing or letting people die. All these images can have a profound effect on children, creating a distorted notion of life and making the line between good and evil thinner than ever.
Even regular heroes in films are increasingly violent nowadays and they give the idea that violence is the only way to fight evil.
The key lies in what a child is exposed to and for how long. It is important for grown-ups to acknowledge that they are responsible for what their children watch or see. Parents often substitute the TV for a babysitter and are not concerned about what their kids are watching on TV or through the internet or when they play video games (often full of violent content) as long as they are occupied and in a safe environment.
It is therefore crucial for parents and guardians to limit the time children spend watching TV or movies on the internet or playing video games. Child psychologists recommend limiting TV watching to one or two hours. Parents must make an effort to spend time with their children and participate in their activities. Watching the films/programmes they watch or the video games they play will allow parents and guardians to know what their wards are exposed to and give them the opportunity to discuss the content with their children. There must be other outlets for children such as playing a sport, learning to play a musical instrument or going to music school, being part of clubs at school and hanging out with other children their own age.
Schools and madrasas where children spend a large or all their time have a special responsibility to make sure that they impart good values to their students outside the textbooks and scriptures. Teaching or preaching tolerance, kindness, honesty and compassion should be part of the curriculum. Teachers must be role models and mentors, not sadistic disciplinarians.
Children must be taught that violence is not the solution to conflict resolution – there are other, better, peaceful ways to resolve a problem. As parents and guardians, we must make concerted efforts to reduce children’s exposure to violence on TV, internet and in video games. This includes monitoring and screening what they watch on screen for fun.
The writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial and Op-ed, The Daily Star.