Boys and violence

Aleks - posted on 11/02/2010 ( 7 moms have responded )

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I am starting to get very worried with regards to the amount of violence my 5yo boy is being exposed to. I don't allow him to watch violet stuff on tv (including most of the cartoons which are supposedly for children :-/ ), however, more and more of his friends are playing rough - pretend fighting/kicking, they are wrestling, etc. Now that he has greater ability to communicate he tells me that so and so is watching Ben10 (friend from kinder), or other such violently laden cartoons made for 10+ yrs (and eve still I find these too violent for such kids). Not to mention some of those boys' fathers are almost encouraging "fighting" type of behaviour- from what I gather from what the mothers have told me.
I mean while shopping at a shopping center a few wks ago I saw a mother with a (may be) 2.5yr old - couldn't really talk properly, stroller behind him with on gun in it, one gun in his hand, yet was running around with toy guns - one hand gun and one machine gun - that were blinking and making "shooting noises" when trigger was pulled!!!! I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT! Can't talk, but was already running around "shooting" things!
My boy ran away and hid!
However, more and more I find him playing, at home with his 20mth old sister, and coping the style of play I see many of these 4-5yo boys frequently displaying!!! That is - wrestling, pretend kicking (which with his skill levels sometimes actually conects, not fun for me nor the 20mth old!) And now that in few months he will be starting prep/grad 0 in primary school (with boys ranging in age 5-12) I am worried that this will just get worse and will be much harder to control, I mean 5 days a week 9am -3pm! That is a lot of hours!

We have a huge problem her in Aust with binge drinking and violence with teenagers and young ppl, where many have died or been severly handicapped after a night out with friends because of violence, usually unprovoked! Not to mention the freaky things that one hears now and again - ie, group of three-four 6yo boys attack and bash a 10yo boy to unconsciousness, etc. I cannot but think its the exposure to alot of violence! And yet, no one bats an eyelid at 3yo walking around watching Ben10 and being draped in Ben10 clothes or spiderman or batman, etc. What is wrong with these parents? Why encourage violence at such young age? I know of a family whose (oh so intelligent father, not) was teaching his 3 yo self defence!!!!! ?????? What the?
Is it just me, or is there something wrong with this picture?

Not one report in the media warning parents. Not one report published regarding exposure to frequent violence at young age will desensitise the child to these types of acts, leading to greater chance of him/her engaging in them when a teen/young adult, with results as mentioned above.

I am feeling I am on a loosing battle. Or am I over-reacting in trying to "over-protect" my boy?
How can I minimise this type exposure to violence with the big hourse my boy will be spending out of my care (home schooling is not really an option for me - too many reasons to get into here)? Have you experienced similar? If so what did you do?

Sorry this turned out a bit long and a bit of a rant, but I had to get some of my beliefs down so as you would understand where I am coming from....

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Brenda - posted on 11/08/2010

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Oh, your two examples, yes and no. Depends on many factors, and from that alone I can't determine. If I were the counselor with the two boys who were "stalking" they would be pulled out for group counseling to watch their social interactions. The child who followed might just be doing what comes naturally, which is to emulate a child he is most like (my son is bad about this, he tries to do what the other kids are doing, and usually when he gets in trouble it is because another kid was doing something and he joined in), but this can be very natural for children who are very emotional or anxious. Childhood anxiety is on the rise, phenomenal rates these days, and a lot of times kids with anxiety are likely to try to find ways to alleviate it, and one of those ways is following a more dominate, less anxious student around.

The other could be simple childhood anxiety, and may be related to parental reactions or lack of parental reaction to real or perceived injury to the child.

Brenda - posted on 11/08/2010

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Oh yes, I understand, it is all a matter of your influence. In most studies on children related to desensitization and violence, parental influence holds much greater sway than anything else. This is overall. There is also the essential question as to whether children with violent natures are drawn to violent shows, etc, and that is why they are more violent, or if it is exposure that makes them so.

Here's an example of a healthy reaction to something violent. If a child watches say Spiderman (my son's favorite), which can argueably be violent, what is the violence used for? Is violence the only answer? In Spiderman you can tally up these issues. Does he use other options rather than fighting? Yes. Does he kill his enemies or subdue them? Subdue. Does he teach morals to children? Yes (With great power comes great responsibility). Given the choice, does he opt for a non violent solution? Yes. Is violence something praised or punished? Punished (villians are the violent and ones that fight, and are punished for it by being put in jail for their crimes). THe same structure can be used for most any superhero.

Now on Ben 10....not sure. I haven't seen a lot of it. It is not my first choice, so we usually have it on something else.

Desensitization is more likely to occur when real life violence is witnessed (abuse in the home, violent neighborhoods), but can occur with overexposure on TV. Now I have to be pretty clear: we are AP parents here, and I seriously doubt that overexposure to the level required to make a normally healthy, well adjusted child become desensitized would never occur. When viewing violence, how does the child percieve it? Do they understand the difference between the fantasy on the tv and reality (huge one)? Can they determine that the characters are fiction and they can do things that they cannot?

Well adjusted is a very flexible term. But basically what it means when I use it is that there is no evidence of psychopathology in the child. These things would be hurting/killing animals, hurting family/friends intentionally, lying to get desired results, not able to tell when fantasy and reality seperate, ALWAYS choosing violent games (not the occasionaly sword fighting with sticks, or playing cops and robbers, but always wanting to do something violent and usually hurting someone in the process), ability to fake emotions, distance from family/friends, isolation, depression, and a few others. "well" adjusted means different things at different ages, so what is well adjusted for your child will not look the same for mine. My son is very emotional, so deals with stress by crying. Other kids may deal with stress by anger. In the end though, to really become desensitised to violence, it takes A LOT of factors, not only exposue to them on TV. Yes, there is a marked higher risk among children that were exposed early, however, keep in mind that most of the studies you will find are seriously flawed or incomplete at best. Anything that you see that says it is "coorelated" is not a guarantee that the study shows the truth. I can say "Ice cream consumption causes murder". The two are coorelated (this is a fact). Ice cream consumption and murder rates both go up at the same time, but the reason isn't ice cream, the reason for the elevation in both is a third variable, which is heat from summer. But, taken seperately, I can truthfully say that my conclusion from the data is that ice cream causes murder rates to increase. Obviously, this is not the case, and this is an extreme example, most the time it is more subtle in real studies. That is the danger in coorelational study, and really any study, is there is an extrenneous variable unaccounted for. So in studies that show violent tv expose leads to violent behavior, have they taken into account the other important variables that alos make a child more succeptable to violence (social economic status, family makeup, abuse in the home, neighborhood violence, parental involvement, peer pressures, and several others).

So yes, after that whole ramble, there is noting wrong with limited exposure, but I wouldn't worry too much about the small amount of exposure he gets from peers because you are far more important to determining the outcomes of his life than anyon else right now. Explain things to him, why you don't like certain shows, why you don't like certain games, and more than anything, trust him. You've done your part for his whole life, and it will reflect in his choices. So you have to trust yourself too (which can be tough). He will want to explore and find those bounderies, and it is up to you to help him see where they lie. :) I hope that helps...

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Brenda - posted on 11/09/2010

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I know it is often a kneejerk reaction to focus on outside influence, but we as AP moms have got to remember, we've done a lot with our children that is going insulate them from all the bad things in the world. Our influence from birth to age five is going to impact them more in the long term than any other exposure they might receive in school. Personally, as a school counselor person soon, I obviously believe in public school, and have problems with home school/unschooling (my own experiences, not going into that right now, :) ). So much of a child's personality is crafted before they are 5, and even what isn't, if there is a firm bond with the parents, the child will come back to that. And that's one of those things no research can deny, that bond and relationship is the MOST important thing in the world. I think that is the thing to remember most, and keeping that confidence that you did a good job at the most important part of his life.

And just as an example, early exposure that is, I'll use myself as a "case study" if you will. :)

I started reading Stephen King at 11, and watched Silence of the Lambs and any other R rated movie I wanted before I was 14. My mom never policed my TV (except the Simpsons, she hated that show). She was also emotionally and psychologically abusive (alcoholic), making life pretty difficult. But even with all that, there was some internal (maybe genetic) thing that made me more resilient. So even with factors that have desensitized other people int the same situation, I became very empathetic and sensitive to things. Maybe it was early on, when my mom was intent on "spoiling" me as a single mother (cosleeping, holding, etc, so basically early AP practices) that made me that way. What she called spoiling (which she did to spite my real father so I would be her child and have no interest in him) actually insulated me to future exposure. She stopped cosleeping when she married my step dad, but I ended up sleeping in the living room on the couch to be closer to her anyway. It wasn't until I was older that she became a bitter alcoholic.

And a note on kidergarteners, and five year olds in general, in the sense of working with them. A counselor will rarely take a five year old and diagnose him or her with any sort of disorder, or say that they need special education (with exceptions, of course, like autism, mental retardation, and a few other early onset areas) because their personalities and abilities are still developing. I'm not early childhood, and don't intend to work with elementary kids but I do know that it is a very special area because they are so different than older kids. It takes until a child is about 7 or 8 for things to really even out. It is dangerous to label a child at that early state because it may be related to developmental stage, and with boys even more so because of different rates of maturation. :)

Whew. I guess part of my long windedness on this is because I like to help people understand that while outside influence can affect kids, it is nothing compared to the early influence of the parents. I just think of all those apethic, angsty teens out there that were probably sleep trained, and told to be independent before they were ready, and beat with belts, who have parents wondering what went wrong. Well, we AP parents know what went wrong. They lost that very important first five years that could have changed everything.

Aleks - posted on 11/08/2010

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thank you so much for your response... I shall take a read and re read it, probably a few times. May take a little bit to sink in, as there was a bit of info there, which is great. And thank you for the time taken to respond Brenda :-)
Much appreciated.

Aleks - posted on 11/07/2010

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Thank you both for your comments and points of view.

I have one question though, Brenda. Most parents that I know would happily say that their child is a well adjusted one. I am no psychologist, so I may just be too judgemental but I have seem a few boys already who "appear" to be well adjusted, but their actions ring alarm bells to me. Yes, they act rough. That is like playing 'fighting" and sometimes they hurt others by doing that (whether they mean it or not I cannot say). However, if someone else barely touches them (and I do mean barely, and half the time it was because they themselves bumped against the other child) they come crying to mummy that so and so has "hit" them and hurt them!!!
I have seen these same parents be absolutely oblivious to what is happening, ie, the childs behaviour and its effect on child itself and other children.
Or the other scenario, I have observed. Totally clingy boy when being left by mother at kinder. Almost teary. As soon as mum leaves, he joins up with another boy (of similar disposition and size - they are bigger than most in that kinder group ) and they (almost) stalk around to other boys looking for an in to start something. Is that well ajusted?
I have no expert knowledge of this, but like I said alarm bells ring for me!

Also, Brenda in what you have studied so far, what do you make of the relatively recent studies that claim that early and then frequent exposure to violence leads that subject to become "desensitized" to it and stops having the effect of it being a horrible thing that sometimes can happen with it being seriously last resort type of action, and it becomes the first and only resort (as it is frequently happening at the moment with the youth).
This is why I try to MINMISE (had to use capitals as itallics are unavailable here...) the amount of violence my boy is getting exposed to. Not that he hasn't had ANY and the things he has seen we (myself, his dad, my parents, etc ) explain how its bad and it hurts people, they have to go to hospital, makes them sad and also cry, etc.
Its that I am really not wishing for him to start that "frequent" exposure so early. I know that eventually he will play Star Wars, and police and robbers, super heroes, wars etc. He will mimick the football tackles, etc.
But does this start at 3 or can it start later?
I have been told that the cartoon Ben10 has got more acts of violence in its 20-30minutes than a whole episode of the 1980s TV show The A-Team which lasted probably 45minutes! That show had a PG rating... So...........
I guess that is my concern. I guess, I also don't want to have him exposed to some of the violent stuff that I cannot explain to him in context either, because he is too young for some stuff to know and understand, like war, for example.
Does that make sense???

Brenda - posted on 11/06/2010

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I guess I come from a different viewpoint. Spiderman is THE hero around our house, with superman, batman and xmen close followers, my husband being a HUGE comic book/video game nerd. My son, who will add is about the sweetest non violent child ever, has always been taught to appreciate the virtues of these "heroes" and not the fighting.

If you honestly want to teach a child that violence is not an answer, put the child in a martial art. As soon as I can afford, I'm putting my five year old into karate or Tae Kwon Do. I have taken Tae Kwon Do, and watched the Master work with the children. A proper class that works with children 4 and over is the best place for a child to learn self discipline and control than anywhere you will ever see. Fighting and violence are actively discouraged, and courage and self confidence are encouraged. I've seen kids do pushups because they used their skills in an inappropriate way. However, teaching one's own child (at three) is not appropriate. Martial arts at their core are about controlling emotions, anger and temper being a big part of it, and knwoing how to control your body. There is no better way to help a child mentally and physically learn how to handle stress, peer pressure, and many other things.

Remember this, no matter your child's influence at school, you are the largest impact on it. I'll admit, my son loves Ben 10, and I've watched many episodes before he got into Sprout and Nick Jr. But I guess it is the way the parent works with it. As a psychologist type person I will say this:

Violent TV/Movies/Video games/play does not make violent children. If a child is otherwise well adjusted, meaning does well in school, has friends, is nice to his siblings, and is not depressed or anxious all the time, and enjoys going outside and doing a variety of things, these things will not affect them. If they are NOT well adjusted, meaning they are mean to other kids, isolated, and keep to themselves, there is a danger for this kind of exposure. Violent play (of all kinds) has been around for eons, from the hunter gathering days when boys would emulate their warrior or hunter fathers.

The key isn't to hide it from your child. Doing so will be detrimental in the long run when sudden exposure will shock him and cause him a great deal of grief from his peers that can possibly lead to self esteem and friendship issues. The key is to sit down and explain to him why certain things are inappropriate. So when I caught the kids at the bustop playing with Nathan with tag but instead they were running from the "poisoned" person, I told him that was not nice and he wasn't to play it. Now they play tag because he told them it was't a nice game and he wouldn't play it. Same goes for shooting or play shooting. My son's been raised around sci fi and video games so his first word for a gun of any kind, including water guns was "pew" and he made "pew pew" noises with them. He still doesn't use the "bang" noises. And he's seen them a lot. I watch CSI, NCIS, and my husband plays Call of Duty, so he sees M rated games when he plays them, but he knows what is apprpriate and what isn't. My husband is a terrible curser. F'n this, f'n that, all the time, and I get onto him but he lets slip A LOT. My son yells at him and tells him those are bad words and to not say them.

I guess my advice is this: Don't hide it, explain it and why you don't like it. Explain why playing with guns is bad and explain that real guns hurt people. Be open and honest, because the more we try to hide these things from our kids, the more curious they become and are more likely to seek them out without our knowledge. That kinda rambles, but this is they way I see it. :)

Kyle - posted on 11/03/2010

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I know how you feel. We have a couple at our Church that who's kids are CONSTANTLY playing ruff with all the kids, even the little ones. It is very frusterating because they have norespect for adults. They even tell their own mother to shut up. They are rude, violent and have no regard for other people. and they are only 5 and 2.5. Their parents are not any better. Their father is into boxing and is basicly a womaniser that I have had problems with and they both see no problem with using a belt to whip their children. I won't let my daughter play with them.

Now I taught my daughter how to fight and defend herself but she knows not to hit first also.I taught her that it was not acceptable to hit first but she has every right to hit back and she won't get in trouble. She stilldoes not like to hit back even though I told her she could. So just because you teach your children to defend them selves does not mean that they will be violent, alot of it just depends on their upbringing. I don't think I have ever seen her hit a child first. and very rarely hasshe hit back. There was one acception that she did but it was because a boy on the bus kept hitting her over a period of days and I told her to hit him back next time. well,next time he hit her in the butt and she slugged him. Teaching them self defense is not always a bad thing.

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