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Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV Movie and Video Game Violence
Reading Group Guide
1. Gloria DeGaetano writes in the Introduction that when she speaks to parent groups about children and violence, 90 percent of her audiences are female. Do you think that men need to get more involved with what their children are exposed to? Discuss the ways in which the male perspective might make a difference to a child's understanding of violence.
2. Reports linking television violence and real-life violence emerged as early as the 1950s. Were you familiar with any of the studies Grossman and DeGaetano cite before you read this book? Do you think the trend toward greater violence could have been stopped if these studies had received more widespread attention? Compare the public's awareness of the dangers of smoking and their knowledge of the effects of violent imagery. Why were anti-smoking campaigns more effective than warnings about media violence? Are people more willing to accept scientific evidence about physical or medical dangers than they are about social or psychological problems? Why or why not?
3. Why are Americans more culturally desensitized to violence than people in other countries? [Chapter 2] Does this only have to do with the power of the media in this country, or are there aspects of our history, cultural patterns, and beliefs that contribute to this desensitivity?
4. Has the increase in violent behavior by children numbed us to it? Are we forgetting what normal childhood behavior is?
5. Do your children ever have nightmares after they have been exposed to screen violence? How do you comfort or reassure them? Do you think your actions--for instance, increasing security in your home--might increase a child's sense of fear about the world, as the authors suggest in Chapter 2?
6. The Television Violence Act and the Children's Television Act were both passed in 1990, and in 1992 the industry issued its own guidelines in an attempt to reduce violence on television. [Chapter 2] Using specific examples, discuss to what extent the industry has met--or failed to meet--its own guidelines.
7. Do you object to depictions of violence in any form in TV programs or movies children are likely to view? Are there contexts in which violent activities can be used to teach moral and ethical lessons? Is cartoon violence as harmful as live-action violence? Why or why not?
8. What stories or movies frightened you as a child? Discuss how the "bad" characters you encountered--for example, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz or the outlaws in Westerns--differ from the characters in movies or on television today.
9. The authors write that "In today's world, youngsters' play is no longer inner-directed and originally created. In the past, TV characters or movie heroes were a part of generative play experience.--Children would imitate a broad range of adult roles. No longer." [Chapter 3]. What specific changes in our society have caused this? Why are children less interested playing games focused on storybook characters or on real-life role models?
10. Were you surprised to learn about the physical stimulation that results from viewing violent acts and that constant exposure to violent images may create a need for a daily "fix"? Have you ever experienced this phenomenon yourself?
11. Many children are attracted to video games because they experience a sense of control and mastery they don't have in their daily lives. Video producers have responded by creating games that emphasize gaining power through destroying others. What kinds of video games might offer kids a chance to experience control of their environment in a nonviolent way?
12. Drawing on his experience training soldiers, Grossman says, "There are three things you need in order to shoot and kill effectively and efficiently--First you need a gun. Next you need the skill to hit a target with that gun. And finally you need the will to use that gun." [Chapter 4] Which of these do you think is the most significant feature of America's "culture of violence"? Did you feel differently about the impact of video games on a child's ability--and willingness--to "shoot to kill" after learning that arcade and computer games are used, in slightly modified form, in military training?
13. Video producers insist that their violent games are manufactured for and marketed to Video adults, not children. Does your own experience bear out this claim? Would separating violent movies or games in a local video store and insisting that store owners be more vigilant provide adequate safeguards? Does labeling a movie or game "mature" increase its appeal to young people?
14. Do you think that extensive media coverage of real-life violence--for example, the Littleton shootings--contributes to children's committing acts of violence themselves? Should less attention be given to notorious crimes in order to discourage "copycats" who may be lured by the thrill of making headlines? Do the media do an adequate job of reporting on the punishment perpetrators receive and other negative results of violence?
15. Stop Teaching Our Children to Kill presents guidelines [Chapter 5] for protecting your children's best interests without "smothering them in the process," as well as specific rules for reducing your child's daily exposure to violent programming and game playing. Do you think these suggestions are realistic? How do you counteract your child's argument that "everyone else" gets to watch a certain program or play a game that you object to? What techniques have you used, beyond those mentioned in the book, to teach your children that violence is wrong?
16. Citing specific examples, discuss how films or television programs can portray violence in an honest and sensitive way and teach children the importance of empathy and a respect for life.
17. Is it possible to recognize children who are prone to violence and get help for them before they act? What should parents and teachers look for? Do you think the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the young killers in Littleton, bear a large part of the responsibility for the massacre? Should you teach your children to watch out for "warning" signs in their classmates or friends and report them to teachers or parents even if there is no specific threat of violence? Does this put an unfair burden on a child? Is it likely to make a child unnecessarily fearful?
18. Have there been incidences of violence by children in your own community? If so, do you think that politicians, the schools, and other groups concerned with the well-being of the community reacted appropriately? Do you attend PTA or other school meetings yourself? Do you think that a more concerted effort--for instance, an organized project to look into and prevent violence--would be effective, or does the ultimate responsibility lie with individual parents setting standards within their own homes?
Questions for parents to discuss with children
One of the many ways parents can help stem the tide of violence is through open and frank discussions with their own children. The questions below offer you a starting point for opening a dialogue with your own kids. Some questions are appropriate only for older children.
19. What do you do when you get angry at your friends?
20. Does hurting someone else mean that you are more important or "cooler" than they are?
21. Is harming other people ever "the right thing to do"?
22. What would you do if you heard a friend or a classmate talk about hurting someone?
23. What movies, television programs, and video games are the most popular ones at school? Why do the kids like them?
24. What things or people are you afraid of? What makes them scary?
25. Who are your heroes, both in real life and on television, video games, and in the movies? What do you like about them? Do they ever do "bad" things?
26. If you could make up your own television show or video game, what would it be like?
27. If you had to spend a week without a television or video games, what kind of activities would you like to do?
28. What do you think of what happened at Columbine? Do you think that kids who are teased all the time at school have a right to seek revenge? Other than literally fighting back, how can kids deal with bullies effectively?
29. Do you think television news spends too much time on stories about crime, wars, and other violent situations?
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