/PRNewswire/ -- Middle-school students are expressing their views on the key factors affecting youth violence, with more than 30 percent of them indicating that television, video games, movies and music provoke violence. Gangs, drugs and bullying are also stated as highly instrumental among this age group, according to the National Campaign to Stop Violence.
The Campaign, active for more than 12 years, analyzed the contents of 10,000 essays submitted by middle school children across the country in 2009 as part of its Do the Write Thing initiative, which encourages young people to write about how violence impacts their lives as a way to address it.
Analysis of the essays determined that 31 percent of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders who participated in the project believe that violent entertainment is a significant catalyst for violence among their age group. Gang violence, drugs, and bullying followed at 27 percent, 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Peter Jensen, M.D., is the Chairman of the New York City Do the Write Thing program and Mayo Clinic Co-chair of the Division of Child Psychiatry and Psychology. "The significance of this study is that it is not parents, educators or social scientists decrying violence in the entertainment industry, it is the young people themselves who are speaking out about the negative impact the violent content has on them," said Dr. Jensen. "The National Campaign to Stop Violence -- and all of us involved with youth -- need to heed this call to action."
Television and Video Game Influence
The Parents Television Council reported that during 1998-2006 violence increased in every time slot, with a 45 percent increase during the Family Hour (8:00 p.m.). Nearly half of all episodes contained at least one incidence of violence, with 56 percent being person-to-person violence in the 2005-2006 season. Guns were featured in 63 percent of the scenes, and knives were used in 15 percent.
According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, social scientists identified four factors that link to violence in children:
-- Children are more likely to imitate the actions of a character with
whom they identify in programs and video games
-- Video games require action -- the player must get involved
-- Video games have a great deal of repetition, normally used as a
learning tool; hence children are learning violence
-- Children learn through reward systems of the type employed by video
"Maybe if we cut some of the more violent videogames, kids would be taught that murder and slaughtering of other humans is not the right thing to do," offers Shelbi Parker of Dallas, TX.
Drugs and Alcohol
Student use of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamines all decreased from 1999 to 2007 as cited by the CDC National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. However, rates of nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication remain high. In 2006, 2.1 million teens abused prescriptive drugs, as well as OTC cough and cold medications.
Do the Write Thing's El Paso, TX program chair, The Honorable Patricia Macias, said, "The young people in our school system experience violence because of border-related issues tied to drugs." Macias, past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and presiding judge of the 388th Family District Court, adds, "It's particularly helpful when law enforcement engages as part of the prevention process."
The CDC further reports that 25.4 percent of students were offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property within a 12-month period.
Children are also influenced by drugs and alcohol in the home. Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), estimates that 8.3 million children -- 11.9 percent -- live with at least one parent who had abused or was dependent on alcohol or an illicit drug in the past year.
Gang and Bullying Influence
According to the 2007 National Youth Gang Survey, the most recent study on the subject conducted by the Department of Justice, there was an estimated 27,000 gangs in America, a 25 percent increase from 2002-2007; and an increase of nearly 8 percent in the number of gang members, up to 788,000. The highest level of gang-related activity is in the large cities and suburban areas, with 60 percent of the gangs, but rural counties are experiencing a 25 percent increase as the gangs expand their activities.
In his 2009 Do the Write Thing essay, Jalil Ahmad of Boston, MA. wrote: "Back then I used to do a lot of fun things around my neighborhood, but now that there are so many shootings that happen there is now a limit to how much fun I can have...I can't even sit on my front porch without someone trying to act tough...."
Violence and bullying on or near school grounds is increasingly stressful to young people. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 1991 and 2007 there was no significant change in the level of school violence, there was a large increase in the number of students who feel unsafe.
The CDC survey of young people between the ages of 10-14 shows that 33 percent of 6th graders, 37 percent of 7th graders, and 40 percent of 8th graders had carried a weapon to school; and nearly 60 percent of each age group had been involved in a physical fight over a 30-day period.
Erick Sanchez from Charlotte, N.C. wrote in his essay: "It was an ordinary day in the sixth grade. I was going to the restroom and about five or six people grabbed me; they pushed me and rammed me into a stall. They tried to go through my pockets... It was not until I got seriously hurt that the administrators really got on their backs. All I got to say is watch your back. It doesn't matter where you are or who you are."
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