The Sun News

How TV, social media fuel violent crimes

Experts urge parents, teachers to monitor kids’ cartoons, video games

By Precious Ihejirika and Victoria Amadi

Last year, newspaper reports of a teenager arrested for robbery in a South-West state caused considerable trepidation in the minds of many.

During interrogation by the police, the young suspect confessed that he got interested in robbery after watching a Yoruba movie in which the protagonist was a major armed robber. He said the exploits of the criminal influenced him greatly, and he decided to promptly commence a career in banditry.

There was also the story of a six-year-old boy who unwittingly committed suicide by jumping down a three-storey building. It was reported that the little boy loved watching Superman cartoons and one day decided to imitate his hero. He tied a cape around his neck, went to the balcony of his house and, singing a Superman song, took a leap down the building. His expectation was that he would fly like Superman, but the law of gravity shattered the plan. He was only able to jump to his untimely demise.

Such incidents are not restricted to Nigeria. On March 11, 2009, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer entered the Albertville Junior High School in the small town of Winnenden, Germany, armed with a Beretta semi-automatic pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition. In less than an hour, he had shot nine former schoolmates and three teachers. While on the run from the police, he hijacked a car and killed three more people. Then he finally committed suicide.

In the United States, two teenage boys murdered 12 schoolmates and a teacher, and injured 21 others at Columbine High School in Colorado before killing themselves. Investigations showed that they were addicted to violent movies.

These are a few of many instances. Indeed, the list is endless. Many would ask, what would cause children and teenagers to take their lives and the lives of others? The obvious answer is that these kids were moved by what they saw on television and the Internet.

With the increase in television viewing arising from presence of televisions in nearly all Nigerian homes, scenes of violence have also increased. This factor has caused a dramatic growth in crime rate in Nigeria.

There is palpable violence on TV, social media, music and other media platforms. In fact, many now see violence as a way of life and it is being portrayed in every aspect of the media.

Media violence is so bad that one does not need to advertise guns or how they are used, because it is done by different sections of the media. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of television programmes contains some physical violence. Even video games and cartoons for kids are not spared. They also contain traces of violence.

Experts noted that the media has so propagated and promoted violence that it has made many people feel that crime is everywhere and, therefore, one needs some form of violence for self-defence.

A report by the United States Secret Service and the US Department of Education, after examining over 37 crime incidents between 1974 and 2000, found that over half of the perpetrators of violent crimes got interested in violence either through movies, games or other media. Analysts have noted also that a possible factor for people engaging in crime might relate to young people’s obsessions with violent imagery in games and movies, which lead them to depersonalise their victims.

The Media Violence Commission of the International Society for Research on Aggression, in its report on media violence, stated that studies conducted around the world over the past 50 years showed that watching violent television movies or playing violent games increases the likelihood for aggressive behaviour, thereby leading to crime.

An expert in early childhood education, Dr. (Mrs) Mary Ignatius, told Daily Sun in an interview that children and teenagers learn from what they see.

She said: “The media has taken up the roles of parents in training the children, as kids of nowadays exhibit violent attitudes that keep people in awe. They practise these violent attitudes because these are what they see on television or social media. You would see a 10-year-old threatening his younger sibling with a knife just because of a little misunderstanding. Switch on your television set or open the pages of different newspapers, and you will see various crime reports, some too bad to believe. And you see that most of the perpetrators are young adults who practically viewed violence right from childhood.”

Many parents also affirmed the fact that constant violent media exposure tends to make viewers aggressive. Mrs. Francis Grace, for instance, opined that kids, especially toddlers, tend to believe anything they see in the media to be true. She narrated the story of a seven-year-old Nigerian schoolboy who mistakenly shot his classmate and friend dead in the school toilet. She advised parents to always monitor what their kids watch, noting that such would go a long way in reducing violent behaviour in the kids.

Manuel Mota-Castilo, a former military officer in the United States explained that, “We are surrounded by violence. We teach our kids how to kill, either through games or movies. So, let’s not be too surprised if they turn out to be gangsters, rapists or terrorists terrorising the city.”

Violent media exposure, it was gathered, not only affects behaviour via content of the media, it also changes time spent in alternate activities. Frequent exposure to the media has also denied children and youth the chance of exercising their brains.

Another expert noted that individuals prone to violence find validation and a safe outlet in violent videos and they also spend valuable time in playing violent games. It has also been discovered that certain victims, notably rape victims, tend to find succour in watching violent videos, thereby gradually changing to monsters to terrorise the society that failed to protect them.

Research findings have further suggested that no one is wholly immune to the effects of media violence. Interactive media, such as video games and the Internet, have been shown to be more potent in affecting individuals. Studies on the effects of violent video games have shown that they cause an increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviours. They also showed that violent behaviours in youth seem to be increasing in form, as the violent content of media increases in form and diversity.

Moreover, Mr. E.K. Ukoha, another expert, advised that there is the need to monitor the media forms allowed into the country as well as what youths are exposed to.

He said: “A lot of violent acts are already taking place in our society, especially in institutions of higher learning, and youths are involved in most cases. It is high time we took a serious look at youth violence and the violent content and form of the Nigerian media. The mass media should be censored more seriously. Age limits should be clearly indicated on programmes sold in the market. Parents, teachers, care givers and even youths should be educated on the harm done by consuming large doses of violent media content. Doing these would certainly reduce crime to the barest minimum.”

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