Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ratings For Books?

Children are exposed to too much violence in the media.

This news flash is brought to us by a coalition of parents and teachers, who want bolder warnings and tougher laws, preventing television and radio stations from airing certain content until late at night and restricting the sale of violent video games…

While others blame the influence of entertainment, some are putting the blame squarely on the parents.

But the focus is on this group and what they’re advocating. They want ways to regulate the internet so that kids aren’t accessing violent sites. The example cited is:

In September, a violent webpage was in the spotlight after Kimveer Gill went on a shooting spree at Montreal's Dawson College, killing a student and injuring about 20 others before killing himself. His online life featured hate-filled and violent writings as well as the glorification of guns.

Last January, cab driver Tahir Khan was killed when his taxi was T-boned in Toronto by a car allegedly involved in a street race. Police said they found a copy of the popular video game Need For Speed next to one of the young drivers now facing charges in the case.

I would like to point out that Kimveer Gill was not a youth. Just how extensive do they want these laws to be? Should they regulate content for adults too?

There’s something else in there that automatically concerns me. Some of the things the group is after include:

Among the measures the group called for are:

- Changing the Criminal Code's public incitement of hatred laws so girls and women are protected.

- Amending the Broadcasting Act to establish "a watershed hour" of 9 p.m. for radio and television stations to limit the violent programming seen by young people.

- Having provincial governments legislate an age-based classification system for recorded music similar to one that exists for films, music videos and video games.

It’s the first one that strikes a nerve with me. What about protections against the hatred of men?

I am always conflicted when I hear about these movements, prompted by studies, for a variety of reasons. First of all, I doubt television programs were responsible for influencing the Crusades. Did the Vikings rape and pillage because they’d played Grand Theft Auto on X-box? I think not.

Truth is, violence has been around since the dawn of time. The Bible is one of the most violent books out there.

Do I think that children should have access to violent games and TV programs? No. But I also believe that what is forbidden is so much more tempting. I was always allowed to drink alcohol at home as a child. I remember being probably all of 6 – I do remember exactly where I was – when I had my first taste of beer. And I didn’t turn into a drunk. In fact, I almost got charged bringing back some alcohol from the UK in July because I had no idea what the regulations were. We seldom have any alcohol in the house. It just isn’t a big deal to me.

Now, that approach might not work for someone else, but I think it underscores the fact that access does not prompt unreasonable influence in every case out there. And I do believe that anyone disturbed enough to listen to a song a few dozen times and then go on a killing spree would have found something, eventually, to trigger them. So many people I know won’t even read the news because of how violent it is.

The debate has come up from time to time about rating books. I mocked the topic back here, months ago. But groups like this one do raise some automatic concerns in my mind: where will it stop? If someone raises issues with a book they believe promotes violence will we start seeing stickers on books, or have shelves up high in bookstores with the books wrapped so kids can’t see?

What about all of the issues around Islam in our culture today? I completely disagree with judging this religion on the basis of the actions of a few people, but that doesn’t change the fact that some are using the Koran as the basis for committing violent acts. The Bible certainly helped incite the Crusades.

Will there be a day when religious books are banned because of the risks they might incite violence? Will we find ourselves facing a Fahrenheit 451 future where books are banned outright because they’re too hard to regulate and it’s easier to control other forms of entertainment?

Having worked with children, I can say with certainty that racing cars and performing wild stunts is something that comes into the equation long before kids are playing video games. Watch how children play and you will see physical acts of aggression from the toddler ages. Not all kids, some kids.

And my initial instinct is to say we have enough laws in place. That instead of looking to blame elsewhere we need to start addressing the root issues in our society. More kids from broken homes, more kids who don’t get proper parenting. From my own experience I remember kids age 11 telling me about their weekend, staying up with Dad until midnight and watching South Park. Dad so desperate to make his limited weekend time positive he approached his child like a buddy instead of being a parent.

And I’ve seen that from mothers too.

I think there are bigger fish to fry. I think the groups just don’t go after it because the one “god-given right” we entitle everyone to is to be a parent if you can reproduce, as long as you don’t hurt your kid. We’re usually pretty good up here, north of the 49th, when it comes to staying out of bedrooms and parenting philosophies.

Maybe it’s time for that to change. What do you guys think?

Any my apologies for not being around yesterday on the comment trail much. I was having a very long conversation with someone who needed to do some jaw exercises. I may have a plan but I dread that phone bill!


JamesO said...

I remember a few years back in Edinburgh they had the Zero Tolerance campaign. It's full, less catchy, title was Zero Tolerance for violence against women, and every time I saw it, I gnashed my teeth. Sure, violence against women shouldn't be tolerated, but then neither should any violence at all.

I am, however, very wary about the idea of government meddling more and more with family life. This is partly my libertarian leaning, and partly the fact that the more the state intervenes, the less responsibility individuals are prepared to take for themselves.

These well-intentioned parents wanting 'someone' to do something about the violent content of video games or telly are really just saying that they don't have the time to monitor what their children see or play, and could someone else do it for them, please. It's not easy to juggle the time-demands of both a full time career and raising children, but ultimately that should be the parent's job - they decided (mostly) to have children, after all.

I'm not against labelling content to make life easier for parents, though I wouldn't like to see such labelling compulsory. I'd rather the expectation be that something not labelled required greater parental scrutiny before letting a child see it.

John McFetridge said...

While it's true parents themselves decided to be parents, it is the one decision you can't undo. And like most other things, once you're doing it, you find out it's a lot different than you thought it would be.

Having said that, too bad. We simply can't make the world so safe that we don't have to do any parenting. What a nightmare world that would be.

But people, maybe especially parents, react emotionally. And the forces working against them are rich and powerful. Everybody wants your kids to play video games. The library has computers in it with games. It's hard to walk through a grocery store and find food hidden in among all the crap.

Still, we have to fight it. We have to fight censorship - even well-meaning (maybe that's the kind we have to fight the hardest).

And we'll have to fight it forever, it's not something that will ever be "won."

Lisa Hunter said...

In general, I think it's up to parents -- not censors -- to monitor what children are exposed to. But what has always bothered me is advertising for violent programs/games. It's impossible, as a parent, to know when those are coming on.

When my son was small, we tried to watch the World Series -- as wholesome a TV broadcast as you can wish for. But every time the station switched to a commercial, there was a serial killer grabbing a woman on a dark street -- a plug for an upcoming TV show. I didn't have quick enough reflexes to click away to another channel in time. We must have seen that actressed get her throat slashed 20 times during the course of the baseball game.

Karen Olson said...

As a parent, I'm always paying attention to what my daughter sees on TV and reads. She's almost 10, but we limit her computer use to a couple of games that we've bought for her. No Internet yet, except for school projects and then I'm working with her. She doesn't seem bothered by that. And she loves to read, listen to books on her CD player and watch old TV shows on DVD like The Partridge Family. Okay, so I feel old by saying that "back when I was a kid" the TV shows weren't as violent or full of sexual innuendo, but it's true. Even on the Disney channel I see stuff that gets me riled up. But it's up to parents to watch and pay attention and raise their kids well. And not be a "best friend."

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think we're all in agreement here, for the most part. Lisa, I definitely agree with you about advertisements. And it's always funny to me that you'll be watching a show and after the ads when the program is back on, that's when they'll put up the age rating for it. As though the commercials certainly wouldn't need to be rated.

Karen and John, sounds to me like you two are totally proactive with monitoring and being hands-on parents. I think it's very hard to parent these days. Then again, it probably always has been. It's just different challenges.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Are you going to get a passport? Now that we're a foreign country!

angie said...

Kids & violence...not a topic I care much about. Oh. Wait. That's not true. We already have rating systems for video games & movies & TV shows & music here & guess what? They don't work. There are always parents and retailers who don't care & kids are watching/listening/playing all the shit that's supposed to be for adults. You can't legislate good parenting. Sorry. Can't be done effectively in a free(ish) society.

The thing about violence against women is that historically speaking it was tolerated much more than violence against men. I'm not saying I agree with the current movements, but it is true that until quite recently it was perfectly acceptable for a husband to beat the shit out of his wife or girlfriend - cops were notorious for walking away from domestic disturbance calls with a mild verbal warning, at best. It's all about balance and we don't seem to be very good with that concept in much of anything. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I agree with everyone's comments. Video games, movies, even comic books, are already rated. Most TV shows show disclaimers ahead of time, so parents should be wise enough to switch them off if they want to. Parenting takes *alot* of energy, and I myself was guilty of using TV as a "babysitter" for my two when they were young, and I was getting ready for work in the a.m. As for violence against women, it took years and years of work on the part of government and social agencies to get our zero tolerance policy. I was a cop back when women were just breaking in to the field, and the zero tolerance policy came down half-way through my career. I went from being frustrated with guys backing me up and then hauling away the wives to the shelter and leaving the $@$%@ boob husbands in their houses, to being able to lock up the husbands and leaving the wives and children to sleep in their own beds. And even if there were no obvious bruises, I'd lock up the husband for being drunk and disorderly, because invariably he'd follow me out of the house cursing at me. I remember one case where the wife had fled with her 5 month old, in her nightie, to the neighbors. Hubbie sicked his dog on me, which didnt last long as I was good with my nightstick. However, I found a long kitchen knife inside with blood on it, and none on him. So I took him out in cuffs. Took a look at her and sure enough, he'd stabbed her in the arm. She told me he'd done it twice before, and the male officers had told him "just go sleep it off in the basement" and she'd slept at her sister's place. I charged him and he did 30 days in jail. Disgusting. So, gnash your teeth if you want, but nothing is worse than going into a home where every piece of furniture (and I mean *every*) has been smashed, dishes smashed, etc. and hubby's drunk and wanting to take another smack at his wife. It was a pleasure to take a smack at him, let me tell you. And all this in front of their kids, etc. I've seen men do things to women that you wouldn't believe; and bullies do things to kids on school property that would curl your hair. So, Zero Tolerance is where we should be as far as I'm concerned, JMHO from experience. Same with gay bashing, racial bashing against Muslims etc. It all starts with what we learn from our parents, and if we're intelligent enough we can decide for ourselves if we want to accept our parent's values or not. ie. domestic abuse, racism, etc. And as parents, there are parental controls on the internet, and we should monitor young and not-so-young teens on the Net, and their friends and whereabouts. Keep open communication with them so that they know they're "safe" with us. If we don't provide a safe haven at home for them, they'll find a "safe" haven somewhere else. Off my soapbox now. :) I truly believe in less government meddling as well, as I know that childrens services for eg. have too much power, having seen that from a cops POV as well. But it's taken a good 25 yrs here in Canada for the government to enact laws to protect women and children.