Eric Frazier

Young people drowning in violent media

By Eric Frazier

This image captured from bystander video shows the March riverside beating one girl suffered at the hands of several others in Columbia, S.C.
This image captured from bystander video shows the March riverside beating one girl suffered at the hands of several others in Columbia, S.C. The State

If you’re one of the few adults who doesn’t think young people are soaking up way too many violent media images, type “girl fight videos” into an Internet search engine.

YouTube’s search field gave me 35.6 million hits for that topic. It is, unfortunately, a global phenomenon. Earlier this year, police in Australia went so far as to warn the public that girls across that country are using social media to organize and broadcast their public brawls.

Just last month, in Columbia, S.C., two bikini-clad teens and a 20-year-old were charged with assault and battery by a mob in connection with the riverside beating of another girl.

In that case, as in many others, onlookers stood by, taking in the spectacle. And of course, someone captured it on video for YouTube posterity.

Consider this the latest wrinkle in our ongoing uphill struggle to shelter kids’ still-developing minds from a violence-soaked media landscape.

Thanks to social media, violent images peddled by the mass media are no longer the only problem. Now, it’s kids stage-managing their own violent confrontations for Internet shock value, too.

It is beyond vulgar. It’s violence porn. What’s going on here?

I hope this is one of the questions placed on the table Friday when the Violence Prevention Committee at Carolinas Medical Center puts on its 11th annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference.

The conference, slated for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, will bring together teachers, counselors and others to talk about the impact of violent media images on today’s youth. With such fare so prevalent on the Internet, on TV, at the movies, in video games and in popular music, they should have plenty to discuss.

Hopefully, we’re beyond the naive question of whether excessive exposure to media violence harms children. It represents a significant risk to children’s health, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, contributing to aggressive behavior and desensitizing children to real-life violence.

“There’s a lot of controversy about this, but if you actually look at the data, the research that’s been done, there’s no question there is a risk factor,” said Dr. David Jacobs, medical director of the F.H. “Sammy” Ross Jr. Trauma Center at Carolinas Medical Center.

Parental controls help. Media ratings systems help. But with digital media washing over seemingly every aspect of modern life, perhaps the surest safeguard is a child who has been taught how to either sidestep such information, or to take it in without allowing it to take control of their worldview.

“We know we’re never going to be able to get (violent media images) to zero,” Jacobs said, “and it may not be necessary for us to get it to zero, but we’ve got to do a better job than we’re doing now.”

Indeed.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com.

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