Wednesday, April 25, 2007

 

Forum Attendees Develop Shared Vision on Stopping the Trend of Violent Children

Finding ways to develop public policies in a democracy to deal with violent children was the purpose of a recent program entitled “Violent Kids: Can We Change the Trend?”

All of the participants in this forum were childcare providers and they offered a unique perspective on an issue that frequently grabs headlines nationwide.

“The make up of this forum was unique and so was the shared perspective. This group basically agreed that violence in media and entertainment plays a role but parents who are absent or just simply don’t parent are the biggest part of the equation,” said David Burton, University of Missouri Extension’s civic communication specialist and forum moderator.

The focus of the forum centered around three very different choices.

CHOICE ONE

Choice one said violence saturates the popular culture, immersing kids in a social environment where violence is portrayed as accepting, exciting and without consequences.

“Folks who took this position say it is time to ban violent entertainment to children under 17 and increase investment in television and after-school programs for children to provide healthy alternatives to the harmful popular culture,” said Burton.

In general, participants agreed that parents too often use different forms of indoor entertainment – television, the Internet and video games – to raise their children instead of being more actively involved in their lives.

CHOICE TWO

Choice two put the emphasis on giving more help to children at risk of violence. This approach says cultural violence is a minor distraction from the real tragedy -- no system for helping troubled kids before they slip into serious trouble.

“Participants who took this position say we must take a systematic approach to identifying troubled and at-risk children, treating those who are traumatized and rescuing more from chronically abusive homes,” said Burton.

In general, participants felt that mental illness was a very small part of the problem. Certainly less significant than parents who are afraid to discipline or don’t teach respect.

CHOICE THREE

Choice three said the root cause of violence in America is a meltdown in society and a lack of moral discipline. The problem is that too many children grow up in permissive homes where they are not taught the boundaries between right and wrong.

“Folks who liked this approach said that as a society, we need to take a much firmer hand in raising disciplined and respectful kids and parents have to be held accountable when their unsupervised children cause trouble,” said Burton.

In general, participants felt parents should be held more responsible for the actions of their children but that other institutions, like the juvenile system, are also failing our children.

FEEDBACK

Based on pre- and post-forum questionnaires, participants did change some of their views as a result of the forum.

For example, before the forum, 60 percent of participants said they were not sure about what should be done on this issue. After the forum, 60 percent said they had a definite opinion about what should be done.

A majority of attendees, 90 percent, said a “ban on the sale and advertising of violent movies, song lyrics and video games to children” was important.

There was also a strong sense that we should “expand character education programs in schools,” a statement that found 100 percent of participants said was important.

The idea that we need to “treat juvenile violence as a mental health problem,” got less support, with only 50 percent of attendees saying that was important.

“Making parents who do not supervise their children accountable when the children commit crimes,” was rated as important by 60 percent of attendees.

One-hundred percent of participants said it was important to “increase efforts to rescue children from abusive homes.”

Another statement, “too many parents and teachers are no longer teaching children the difference between right and wrong,” was something that 90 percent of attendees said they were concerned about.

And perhaps most telling, 90 percent of participants favored this statement: “We should restrict and control extreme violence in the popular media even if this places some limits on freedom of expression.”

For more information on these forums, contact David Burton at (417) 862-9284. More information is also available online at http://extension.missouri.edu/greene or at the National Issues Forums website.
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