Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

When did children become so violent?

By Unéné Gregory

On a calm Saturday evening I found myself watching a raved-about movie, Hanzel & Gretel Witch Hunters, a children’s folktale that had been given a twist by Hollywood. As I waited for the movie to begin I expected action and suspense. What ensued I was not expecting. Half-way through the movie I found myself wondering when movies had become so bloody and gruesome. I sat through the entire movie, cringing through most of it and watching the “action” scenes through my fingers.

These kinds of movies with their emphasis on portraying a high level of realism have become common. Gone are the days of tomato-sauce blood, hearing gunshots during the action scene though never seeing the entry and exit bounds and suggestive scenes merely being suggestive sounds and shadow movements behind a curtain, or at best rummaging beneath the covers. Apparently people want more.

The nation and the world is becoming more and more desensitised. Video clips such as the hostage situation in Kenya have become common. These are the type of images we show on prime-time news with a simple “warning”, to protect ourselves by law, that states “the following images maybe be disturbing to sensitive viewers, viewer discretion advised” or something of that nature. When did being disturbed by gruesome images make one a “sensitive viewer”? When did it become a norm to have the front-page image of a newspaper, in all its full colour glory, be a woman lying on the ground soaked in blood?

Do not get me wrong, I believe in reporting the news and keeping people abreast with what is happening in the world. However, showing bloody and gruesome images is not essential to conveying the facts of the situation. When did such images stop sending shivers down our spine, making us teary-eyed and just want to look away?

Television shows and video games have also become as big-a-culprits for displaying rather explicit scenes. The same video games that glamorise crime and prostitution by having the objective of the game to steal cars or by taking the user through a prostitute-filled mall are the very same games we allow our youth to buy and consume. These are the kind of TV shows we let our youth watch and glorify, and yet we wonder why people are becoming more violent? One cannot outsource parenting. One cannot expect to place a child in from of the TV, check out emotionally and physically to do what you “need to do” and expect and assume that the child will turn out great.

I, like the next action/thriller lover, can appreciate a fantastic plot and good production; though just as we have “red taped” human cloning as “immoral” surely we could “red tape” certain types of scenes and images, or at least the level of gruesomeness. If nothing else, shouldn’t certain types of movies, TV shows and video games be completely inaccessible to our youth?

When I was in high school (which wasn’t too far back) it was unheard of for a pupil to attack a teacher or to bring a gun to school, or perhaps I was never exposed to such, though we now see an increase in these occurrences. We ask ourselves when did children become so violent. I ask, when did parents stop parenting? When did humans become so cold?

For you see one of the reasons we cringe or get shivers when something horrific happens is because of our empathy for the people experiencing whatever it is; for those moments we put ourselves in their shoes. Empathy is what allows us to sympathise with people and what they are going through, it is our capacity as humans to care and feel. So in essence, the desensitisation of our nation means the degradation of our ability to be empathetic; it is the degradation of our moral fibre.

The onus is on parents, communities, on us as a nation and as a people to not allow ourselves to wither away and become devoid of feelings, compassion and empathy. How do we begin to resensitise our nation to ensure that some of the things that make us who we are as humans remain intact? How do we ensure that we do not facilitate the breeding of psychopaths, of people so unaffected by suffering and pain that it becomes a norm? When do we say enough is enough, put our foot down and start doing something about it?

Unéné Gregory is a 2012 Mandela Rhodes Scholar and is currently completing her master’s degree in electrical engineering within the niche area of assistive technology.

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  • 14 Responses to “When did children become so violent?”

    1. aim for the culprits #

      what princess and prince what is what they get. that is the new norm. and what they want is what marketing dollars tells them to aspire to. blame your grandparents. their pension fund funds this to get them the maximum returns they demand.

      November 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm
    2. Cam Cameron #

      Any answers/suggestions for your own collection of questions?

      November 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm
    3. Stephen Browne #

      “Television shows and video games have also become as big-a-culprits for displaying rather explicit scenes.”

      “These are the kind of TV shows we let our youth watch and glorify, and yet we wonder why people are becoming more violent?”

      True because you say so? The fallacy of this presumed link has been proven over and over, yet moralists still squeeze every last drop of outrage out of them.

      P.S. the psychopaths you’re so afraid of ‘breeding’ are going to be around regardless of what’s on TV, as evidenced by their existence long before CSI: Miami.

      November 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm
    4. J.J. #

      Excellent article, Unéné!

      “When do we say enough is enough, put our foot down and start doing something about it?”

      NOW! Because if we don’t do it now, we’ll go beyond a point from which it will be very hard or take extremely long to return. A lot of people are already “lost” – those are the malignant narcissists and psychopaths you refer to. More and more people are being afflicted by these personality disorders. It is even depicted as being cool to have such a disposition in cinema, and people are in some cases aspiring to become like that.

      How we stop this trend? That is the question.

      (but)

      It has been proven through research that social networking (yes, you read that right) breeds narcissism, which has caused this narcissistic epidemic of the me-culture that we see today – and it has become “the norm”.

      Many people need social networking like they need to breathe, if you know what mean.

      “How do we ensure that we do not facilitate the breeding of psychopaths, of people so unaffected by suffering and pain that it becomes a norm?”

      To be a good parent – and to give good parenting you need to be a well-balanced, responsible, emotionally mature person yourself, in the first place

      Problem here – even if you do that, a lot of it get’s eroded by modern society. Basically morals are driven by media and entertainment these days as you pointed out so well – how these morals are “shaped” are thus out of our hands.

      Should we then avoid…

      November 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm
    5. J.J. #

      …media?

      Whatever the case, the normal structures within which people used to form their values and morals and receive love and positive feedback and reinforcement, while keeping them (their ego’s) in check and within which they had responsibilities and a role and had to interact with people according to certain norms of civility and respect have all but disappeared. At least within the European(ised) part/s of this particular country, but this is a general western phenomenon.

      “How do we begin to resensitise our nation to ensure that some of the things that make us who we are as humans remain intact?”

      If we introduce Ubuntu as our first and foremost value system, even if we will have to practice that within the construct of capitalism, but if it is first and foremost our approach to life, we will not lose our humanity in the process/es related to the market system.

      Less time social networking and more time communicating in real life in the real world.

      November 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm
    6. J.J. #

      Social media facilitates the creation of false persona’s. False persona’s are the basis of personality disorders.

      Google: “narcissism epidemic”

      Lots of research has been done on this by now.

      November 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm
    7. Momma Cyndi #

      There was a very good study (and subsequent article) a number of years ago called ‘Shooting the Messenger’. If you can get hold of it, it is well worth the read. It goes into depth on the kneejerk reaction of blaming music / games / movies / etc.

      Another good read is a classic called ‘Lord of the Flies’. It may be fiction but it certainly follows reality quite accurately. It is a rather good depiction of what happens when children are left feral.

      The reality is that we have an awful lot of people in SA who have no right to call themselves parents. We have children having children and simple disinterest. Then we have children with more ‘rights’ than they can handle. It is time to go back to the old ways where it was a village that raised a child and every adult was responsible for raising every child

      November 8, 2013 at 5:22 pm
    8. J.J. #

      “Empathy is what allows us to sympathise with people and what they are going through, it is our capacity as humans to care and feel. So in essence, the desensitisation of our nation means the degradation of our ability to be empathetic; it is the degradation of our moral fibre.”

      Spot-On!

      Empathy is the most fundamental element that makes us human. People devoid of empathy are in essence devoid of their essence as humans.

      With all personality disorders, their is universally one fundamental element missing:
      empathy.

      To come back to your list of questions at the bottom of the page, everyone is responsible for their own mental and physical health and well-being. They are also responsible as adults for their own consumption, whether that may be food or media.

      Just like you consume food selectively you need to know how to consume media selectively. The mind is like a sponge and not only impressionable, but retains information subconsciously and processes it. We ARE affected by what we are exposed to. Any mental health professional will confirm that. If we expose ourselves mainly and continuously to “trash(-y)” information and images, such as tabloid style, celebrity orientated “news”, “complimented” by social media profile surfing and tabloid-style news-feeds of “real people” pretending, our brains turn to “mush”.

      Or you could remain “old-school” and save your brain – and more importantly those of your kids.

      November 9, 2013 at 7:59 am
    9. J.J. #

      Here’s another reason why children are so aggressive. Online bullying, which develops on the internet and affects children’s general behavior as well.

      Article here:

      “Do you know where your children go online?”

      http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/09/children-online-sexting-bullying-security-settings

      Technology has many benefits, but it’s also taking society backwards, big time.

      November 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm
    10. Simple! We need to go ack to our values. Parents don’t have time, we have lost that family quality time we used to have, having supper together as family, praying together before supper, connect etc.
      Another thing is age gap between parents of today and our parents. Today, parents are carreer driven which makes them to neglect their famillies. Lastly, most kids are from single parent headed famillies, bitter single parents, how then do expect them to function well?

      November 10, 2013 at 10:35 am
    11. george orwell #

      Thank you, excellent article.

      This Hollywood violence desensitises kids.

      There’s a kind of sickness lurking at the heart of these violent, aggressive movies and we need more child psychologists to draw attention to this.

      At the heart of Hollywood are massive corporations, for whom profit is the bottom-line.

      The movie corporations count on newer and more shocking horrors to get people lining up at the box office. They tap in to the worst part of the human psyche, playing on fear, anxiety, voyeurism, peer pressure and the passive, regressive need to ‘be shocked and awed’.

      People need to start voting against gratuitous Hollywood violence with their feet and their wallets.

      November 10, 2013 at 6:24 pm
    12. Unéné Gregory #

      Thank you all for your views.

      I was in the US about two weeks ago and had the opportunity to witness what goes on in New York during Halloween. What I realized was that there was a vast difference in peoples behaviours on that particular night compared to the two weeks I was there; as though donning a mask or scary costume gave them a sense of “bravery” without which they didn’t possess.

      I feel that the violent TV shows, questionable games and gruesome movies WE allow our children to consume make them less reactive to violence and/or cruelty, and thus makes such behaviour normal.

      I agree with the comments made regarding the rearing of children. In the absence of responsible parenting, children will, sooner or later, make regrettable decisions from which they will most likely not be able to learn as there wouldn’t be anyone to guide them and impart life lessons.

      Whether we choose to admit or not, humans are impressionable. Just as we condition certain thought patterns and learn certain skills through observation and repetition, so are violent tendencies and behaviours adopted.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm
    13. george orwell #

      Movie violence provide teens with scripts

      http://rt.com/news/violence-teens-films-guns-577/

      Most parents rely on ratings to decide whether a film is appropriate for their children to watch, but a recent study shows that gun violence in PG-13 movies (age 13+) has surpassed that in Over-18 movies.

      “Seeing guns in films might also provide youth with scripts for using guns,” the authors of the study ‘Gun Violence Trends in Movies’ warn.

      They analyzed 945 movies cherry-picked from the 30 top-grossing movies from 1950 to 2012.

      According to the study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University, violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, while gun violence in PG-13–rated films, especially popular among younger people, has more than tripled since 1985.

      “We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make gun use appear exciting and attractive,” he added.

      A number of scientific studies have previously concluded that the mere presence of guns can increase aggression, a phenomenon dubbed the “weapons effect.”

      They give an example when movies have served as a catalyst for violence.

      In July 2012, James Holmes bought a ticket to see the new Batman movie in Colorado. About 20 minutes after the show started, the youngster left the theatre and returned with several guns and a huge amount of ammunition. James killed 17 people in cold blood.

      November 12, 2013 at 11:57 am
    14. Carol #

      I’m just SHOCKED about the mass stabbing murders in Calgary this week. What is happening to our “YOUNGER” generation? Many of them seem so” OUT-OF-CONTROL” nowadays. I’m almost AFRAID of the teen scene now, they look so” AWFUL” and some of them look MEAN. I don’t understand where its coming from? I was just a teenager myself in the 1980s, not so long ago and we had the Dope, violent t.v shows also, booze, you name it and I don’t remember EVER anyone becoming violent and killing people??? I wonder if a lot of it is the DIVORCE rate now? Violent video games, internet, too many parents that are NOT involved enough? Explain to me and how do we get CONTROL back?

      April 17, 2014 at 10:48 pm

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