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Interacting with children, limiting TV can counteract violence

Published on -4/15/2013, 9:42 AM

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This is the eighth in a series about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: What are some recommendations to counteract the contemporary culture of violence?

A: The remedies to offer children guidance with media violence begin in the home. Parents should limit the number of hours children watch television. They need to provide other options: books, toys, magazines, puzzles and board games. Parents need to keep television sets and Internet connections out of children's bedrooms. Children should not watch television while doing homework.

Other suggestions for parents include limiting or banning weekday television. School, homework, chores, and school and sports activities keep children busy. Shows can be recorded and saved. Parents also can check program listings and reviews ahead of time and choose shows positive and educational for children.

Parents should set good examples by limiting their own television time. They also can preview programs their children select to watch. Parents and children together can set up family television schedules for selected programs. The schedules need to be posted in visible areas, and parents need to monitor whether everyone is following the plan.

Parents should be watching television with their children, at least some of the time. That way, parents can discuss and process what they observe together with their children. Discussions about values and beliefs, right and wrong, inequality, unfair treatment and other cultural topics that might be confusing to children can be initiated. Parents can visit with other parents and teachers about television policies. Checking with parents of the friends of your children is a good idea if they spend a lot of time at the homes of their friends.

In order to succeed in offering children fun options to television, parents will need to participate in family activities with the children. With smaller children, that involvement would be playing hide and seek or activities such as coloring or building with Lego blocks. With older children, shared activities could include biking, shooting baskets, sharing hobbies, working out or hiking. All the above suggestions are posted on KidsHealth.com, 2011.

Review of literature about reducing interpersonal violence by the World Health Organization in 2009 identified several strategies to reduce risk factors for interpersonal violence. The first strategy is to develop nurturing and safe relationships between parents and children. One such program is the Parents As Teachers program in Early Head Start and Head Start in which teachers work with parents in their homes on a regular basis during a period of years teaching parenting skills.

Another strategy to prevent violence is to teach life skills to children and adolescents. Parents can participate in this endeavor, and schools can teach classes in coping skills. Lots of community organizations and agencies offer workshops to teach parents or children social skills and problem-solving.

Along with the education of children and adolescents about the risk of alcohol leading to violence, there needs to be more readily available treatment. The percentage of family violence associated with alcohol abuse is overwhelming. The U.S. Department of Justice reported 61 percent of domestic violence offenders have substance abuse issues. A survey of public child welfare agencies by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse documented 80 percent of child abuse cases are associated with alcohol or other drug abuse. Advertisements for alcohol are plentiful on the media. Note the beer industry, in particular, is associated with football and other athletic events.

At the community and social levels, norms that support violent behavior need to be changed. Such norms are the definitions of gender roles, supporting male dominance and female victimization. These measures would include addressing dating violence, sexual abuse and intimate partner abuse. Schools are the best community choices to teach appropriate gender norms and roles to children and adolescents. For adults, social service and mental health organizations are the most common sources for prevention programs and treatment for family violence.

Social policies are needed that address the cultural inequalities that can result in collective violence. An example would be the unavailability of health care for those without insurance, or those denied services based on minority group prejudice. So far, the denial of health care has not caused collective violence. An example of collective violence that did occur followed the incident in which Los Angeles policemen physically were abusive to Rodney King, the video of which caused race riots in California.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2010 published several recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many of their suggestions duplicated those already reiterated from KidsHealth.com. However, the AAP added a couple additional measures. Parents and schools should teach children conflict resolution skills. These skills are positive alternatives to violence for problem-solving. The AAP also advocated for physicians to take more proactive roles in health promotion and make their solutions known to networks, local media, federal agencies and politicians. Both advocacy for better control of media violence and public education are roles well-suited to physicians.

* Next week's column will continue discussing recommendations to prevent and contain cultural violence.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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