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Violence is a public health concern

Glenn Ellis

By Glenn Ellis

Glenn Ellis

Violence among youths is a critical public health problem. Some of the documented reasons are the early onset of aggressive behavior in childhood, social problem-solving skill deficits, exposure to violence, poor parenting practices and family functioning, negative peer influences, access to firearms, and neighborhoods characterized by high rates of poverty, transiency, family disruption, and social isolation.

But there is a burning question that seems to get lost in the conversation:

Does televised violence result in aggressive behavior?

We need to look no further than all the recent school shootings and the escalating rate of youth homicides, particularly among urban adolescents to answer this question.

Youth violence statistics show teenagers are becoming more violent.

It’s virtually impossible to keep your kid in a violence-free bubble. Ninety percent of movies, 68% of video games, and 60% of TV shows show some depictions of violence, according to the research on the topic.

Children who watch a lot of TV are less aroused by violent scenes than are those who only watch a little; in other words, they’re less bothered by violence in general, and less likely to see anything wrong with it.

Without consequences

In general, violence on television and in movies often is a sure-fire method for conflict resolution. It is efficient, frequent, and seemingly, without consequences. Even the heroes are violent, and, as such, are rewarded for their behavior. They become role models for youth. It is “cool” to carry an automatic weapon and use it to knock off the “bad guys.” The typical scenario of using violence for a righteous cause translates, for many young people, in daily life into a justification for using violence to retaliate against people whom they feel have “violated them. The result; vulnerable youth who have been victimized use violent means to solve problems.

Exposure to violence can limit children’s potential and increase their likelihood of becoming involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system. These children are often more likely to develop a substance use disorder; suffer from depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder; and fail to thrive in school.

The Journal of Pediatrics reports that 40.9 percent of children and youth had more than one direct experience of violence, crime or abuse in 2014. In 2014, 24 percent of children in another study had witnessed violence in their homes, schools, and communities in the past year, and 38 percent during their lifetimes. Do we think this is acceptable? Do we think they will just “shake it off: and move on with their lives?

Even if a lot of attention is given to the effects of violent movies, cartoons, and video games on children, this isn’t the only place they are exposed to these images. Increasingly horrifying and graphic pictures are shown daily in the news from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and other violence taking place around the world.

All of us know well that we can’t (as adults) just turn on the TV, open up a web browser, or scroll through Twitter without being assaulted with notifications of a new world disaster (or two, or three…). Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, alerts of shootings, plane crashes, ISIS beheadings, crime, police homicides, war and human rights violations are constant — and this incessant news of violence and destruction may be messing with our heads.

PTSD And Urban Youths

A growing number of programs treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in war veterans. But far fewer treat urban youths, who suffer from the PTSD that comes with their ZIP code. And this kind of PTSD may be affecting even more young people than we think. A research study at Grady Hospital in Atlanta found that at least half knew someone who had been murdered. Some two-thirds said they had been victims of a violent assault. A third had been sexually assaulted. This wide range of trauma experience meant that 32% of this population suffered PTSD symptoms.

This concept that “deteriorated” neighborhoods have an impact on one’s mental health is not new. At least 70 years ago, Chicago school researchers Robert E.L. Faris and H. Warren Dunham went through 30,000 psychiatric hospital admission records. They found high rates of substance abuse and even schizophrenia in these neighborhoods. Later studies found that high rates of depression were also common.

Critics of youth violence cry for an end to black on black crime, demanding that young people respect each other’s lives. But how many of us are respecting their lives, by allowing them to be born, and grow up in a society that condones the levels of violence in every form of media?

What is a child supposed to think when we glorify movie stars who portray award-winning performances in the most violent films and television programs? When the news is saturated with the most heart-wrenching, and often gory news stories? Do you think they ignore it, and are not affected?

Someone said to me last week, “while we are watching our children; our children are watching us”.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health-related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. 

For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.