- In the age of 24-hour news networks and wall-to-wall
news coverage, are the images relayed to children too much? Experts say
bombarding children with graphic images like those in the Columbine High
School shooting could have a lasting and devastating effect.
- "These images packaged in the form of a Hollywood
movie would likely draw an R-rating and most parents wouldn,t dream of
buying their child a ticket. But what happens when the images are real
and can be seen every night on television news shows?"
- Imagine scenes from a newscast through the eyes of a
child: War, murder, sexual misconduct. These images packaged in the form
of a Hollywood movie would likely draw an R-rating and most parents wouldn,t
dream of buying their child a ticket. But what happens when the images
are real and can be seen every night on television news shows?
- "The first thing kids usually think of when they
see a frightening news story is that it,s going to happen to them next,"
says Dr. Joanne Cantor of the University of Wisconsin. Cantor is the author
of "Mommy I,m Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children." She
says there is little doubt television news is becoming more graphic and
sensational. The world presented to children on television is often a lot
scarier than the world they live in. Stories like the Colorado school shooting
can have a lasting effect.
- "Many children were frightened to see this horrific
episode really unfolding before their eyes and lots of them didn,t want
to go to school the next day or the next week," says Cantor. She adds,
"kids often have nightmares not just that night but maybe for weeks
or even months if a particular news story really gets them upset."
- For Don and Debra Weiskopf, it,s a question of filtering
what their boys watch - usually only one hour of television a day, and
very rarely is it news. Don believes that what children see can often be
more powerful than what they hear or read. "Images are much more powerful,
I think, they leave a much bigger indelible mark as opposed to what you
just hear. So if you see a kid bleeding from a gunshot wound, that,s really
gonna leave a greater mark on you than just hearing about it on the radio,"
- Children,s chances of seeing something graphic on the
news is at an all-time high. According to one study, the number of murder
stories on network newscasts has risen about 600 percent in the past decade
at a time when the national murder rate has dropped about 20-percent. It,s
not just crime that has parents concerned. A story like Bill Clinton,s
impeachment probably initiated difficult conversations in many households.
Debra Weiskopf says, "it was very hard to explain the presidency and
I had to explain to them that you don,t have a relationship with someone
that you,re not committed to and it gave me an opportunity to place my
values on the situation to my children. But at nine and eleven (years of
age) I really wish I hadn,t have had to do that."
- Some channels have started tailoring their news specifically
for children. Nick News host Linda Ellerbee won a prestigious Peabody award
for her coverage of the impeachment crisis. The awards committee said it
was the most insightful telling of the Clinton-Lewinsky story to children
and adults alike.
- "There,s a real balancing act that has to be done
by journalists between their obligation to tell the truth and their obligation
to minimize harm," says Barbara Cochran who is president of the Radio-Television
News Directors Association. "I think most news directors are very
conscious of the impact that graphic video can have on an audience, not
only children but an entire audience, because there are adults who will
find some images unpleasant also," says Cochran.
- While it,s obvious that the best way to protect children
from what they see on the news is to turn the television off, experts and
parents agree that,s not realistic. Cantor says, "my own approach
since I have a young child is to watch the news after my child is in bed."
Debra Weiskopf says, "They need to know. It,s very important that
our children know what,s going on around the world. I just would rather
I explain it to them instead of having them see it on television."
- Not to mention that time away from the television set
leaves more time for what childhood is supposed to be all about.