Lions and Tigers and Bears… Oh My! Becoming Desensitized to Violence

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Violence and trauma are very much a part of our lives these days. It comes right into our family rooms and sits with our children. We try to keep it out, but are not usually, totally successful. Not all households have the same standards, and if this content is not in our home, it will be waiting for our children at the neighbor’s.

This conversation always reminds me of an incident I encountered a few semesters ago as I was leaving the campus. Just minutes before, there had been a horrific car crash right across the street from the College, just outside the faculty parking lot, and about 20 feet from my parked car.

The street was closed off and I just had to wait there until the injured were taken care of and the cars were cleared. The “Jaws of Life” was being utilized to extract a poor student from her flattened vehicle. Not being able to go anywhere, I watched the miracle of modern technology assist in rescuing her, but I called attention to myself of the fact that I was not overly shocked or disturbed at what I was seeing. Yes, it did upset me to some degree, but it was also very similar to many television programs and movies I had seen, with similar trauma, injuries, and blood loss. Had I not seen such shows, I probably would not have been able to stand there and watch the sequence of events that unfolded in front of me.

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As I looked around, I saw a mother from a nearby home standing closer to the wreckage than me, with her child, who could not have been much older than 4 or 5. Both stared blankly and without comment, neither one particularly affected by what was happening. It struck me then, how very much our repeated exposure to simulated violence and trauma is neutralizing events and situations that would otherwise elicit strong responses. As a result, there might also be reduced importance and impact from participating in violence, as well. This maybe causing a subtle, progressive, yet undeniable shift in our society’s system of values, which is far scarier than any accident scene or video.

What does this mean, then, in terms of our responsibility to young children as care providers and parents? It is important to remember that their level of cognitive development makes it difficult for young children to distinguish what they are seeing on a screen from what is actually happening. Scary or violent movies, games, and videos notwithstanding, even a good portion of the daily news coverage is filled with disturbing images and footage.

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The late Fred Rogers reminds us adults that sometimes it is a good idea not to get drawn into watching and just turn it off. Children need us to spend time with them, without exposure to upsetting content. Instead of dwelling on what is wrong with some people in the world, they must be reassured there are plenty of caring people, too. They also need to know we will do all we can to keep them safe. By teaching, modeling, and emphasizing positive social behaviors and values, we can only hope to ensure a well-adjusted, future generation.

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