Boys, Guns and Clowns


Scott McGrewIf you’re worried about kids and video games, I highly recommend the book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make-Believe Violence, a provocative book about children, violence and the media.

The author, Gerard Jones, brings up some interesting points.

His central thesis is that children need aggressive expression. Children watch violent content because it fulfills some sort of inner fantasy. It may even calm their fears and allow them to deal with anger in a safe way.

The problem, he posits, is when adults then add their own bias to the children’s behavior. For instance, adults may worry when a child sees the hero in a story shoot “a bad guy.” Adults become anguished the child will somehow learn shooting someone does not carry consequences. Note, the author says, that it is the adult who brings the violence into real life context. The child understands what he sees is fantasy — it’s the parent who takes the action out of the TV set and places it in real world context.

This thought reminds me of something out of my own life. Back when they were younger, I allowed my children to play “war” with plastic guns (they’ve since lost interest). I saw no harm in it — I did it myself as a child and grew up to be a reasonable, normal person (and we had MUCH cooler guns back then).

I emailed a relative a picture of my youngest dressed up in old Army surplus stuff — helmet on his head, canteen strapped to his waist — pointing a squirt gun at his brother.

The email returned to me with a bit of a dressing down: “you should NEVER point a gun at a person! You should tell your children that!”

I felt badly. Perhaps I was being too lax about my children’s behavior.

But reading this book, I am suddenly aware of the absurdity of the argument. He wasn’t pointing a gun at a person. He was pointing a hunk of red tipped plastic capable of squirting water at a person. We adults brought the concept of real guns into the picture. using the Three Stooges.

Killing Monsters points out studies show the best predictor of whether a child will use a gun in his adult life is not whether he grew up with toy guns, but rather if he grew up with real guns in his household.

Jones also dissects the studies of violent media’s effect on children and brings up some interesting points.

First, the seminal study of the effect of violent media on children — the one everyone quotes whether they know the details of the study itself or not — is from 1960. The media used: The Three Stooges.

The study found 10% of children shown violent media acted aggressively shortly afterward. Nothing is said about the remaining 90%.

Many subsequent studies did not start from scratch; they did not perform new tests. Rather they reanalyzed the data from the original study. So even some modern day studies are still

Further, the studies tend to show a “link” between violent media and aggressive behavior. A link is not a cause. One could say kids who watch violent media act aggressively. One could also say kids who act aggressively watch violent media. Starry eyed romantics, Jones points out, like romance novels. There’s a link there too. But it does not mean the reverse: that romance novels cause people to enter bodice ripping relationships.

And what about that aggression? We label aggression as bad. Why? And what, exactly, is “aggression”? The studies do not delve into that. If children run around shooting each other with their cocked fingers after seeing a Western, what exactly is the harm of that? Sure, kids who saw a clip of an Old West gunfight seem to then re-enact that gun fight with their fingers. And we all tut-tut. Jones dares to ask “so what?”

One last thought: Children who saw video of another child punching a plastic inflatable clown were far more likely when left in the room with a plastic inflatable clown to punch the toy than children who did not see the video.

Scientists say this indicates the video causes children to be aggressive.

Jones points out something we all seem to ignore: the children are punching A PLASTIC INFLATABLE CLOWN.

Scott McGrew
NBC11 Business & Tech Reporter


One Response to “Boys, Guns and Clowns”

  1. Karen Says:

    Scott I believe in what you’re saying. People today believe that how we play as children becomes who we become as adults when all we’re doing is playing. I have not read the book but I will now and will recommend it to others.

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