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John Whitehead's Commentary

Breakdown of Family, Not Hollywood, Is Cause of Violence

John Whitehead
There has been no shortage of blame for the recent shootings in Littleton, Colorado and Conyers, Georgia. The latest targets being taken to task for the rash of school violence are the gun and entertainment industries. The entertainment industry is under fire for producing movies, television programs and games that allegedly make our nation's youth more violent. While movies and television undoubtedly influence how young people talk or what they wear, to say that movies influence children to kill is a gargantuan leap. Hollywood is not at the root of teen violence. Rather, the problems and the solutions both can be found within the family.

In a recent radio address, President Clinton scolded Hollywood for the mass production of violence that has resulted in "too many vulnerable children who are steeped in this culture of violence, becoming increasingly desensitized to it and ...more liable to commit violence themselves." But later that same day, Clinton gave a speech at a Democratic fundraising gala attended by Hollywood's biggest players. At the gala, Clinton's "reprimand" of the entertainment industry was as firm as a wet noodle. Contrary to his earlier radio remarks, Clinton told the crowd of celebrities that, while some children may react adversely to the violence displayed in the media, "for most kids it won't make any difference."

Like President Clinton, the Senate succumbed to public pressure and passed the Juvenile Justice Bill, which controls and regulates the sale of certain firearms. But this bill not only attacks the gun industry, it targets the entertainment industry as well. Included in the bill was a proposal aimed at regulating violence in movies and television. Approved in the Senate 98-0, the proposal requires the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the entertainment industry markets violent films to children. It also requires the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study evaluating the influence of violent images and lyrics on children's behavior. If passed by the House in June, the bill would prohibit the filming of "wanton and gratuitous violence" on federal property.

The entertainment industry is the scapegoat du jour. In response to the anti-Hollywood hype, Edgar Bronfman, one of the czars of the entertainment industry and chief executive of Seagram Co., the force behind Universal Studios, said that "[violence] is not an entertainment's a societal problem." Inarguably, kids are exposed to violence in the media, whether it is on television, in books, or at the movies. But a child's propensity for crime is more likely attributable to his family situation and home life than to what he observes on television or at the movies. I am a horror movie fan, and my five children have seen almost every horror movie and many of the violent films that Hollywood has produced. However, contrary to the hype propagated by the opponents of media violence, none of them are violent or anti-social. Instead, they are well-adjusted, caring individuals. So what causes another child, who like my own has witnessed violence on the television or movie screen, to become violent?

Alienation and isolation from family and peers are common reasons kids violently act out their aggression. How do we prevent our nation's youth from becoming so angry, so isolated, and so hopeless that they prefer death to life? How do we make our families, particularly the adolescents, strong and secure?

Parents must develop and maintain a relationship with their children, spending "quantity time" with them, not just "quality" time. Boundaries should be established early in a child's life and maintained throughout, as should traditions and family rituals. These provide the children with a sense of security and structure that they desperately need and want. Also, a balance must be achieved between active and passive parenting, with a focus on family time spent inter-acting with each other rather than passively watching television or ball games. Finally, the schools must promote more parental involvement and interaction with their child's education.

While these concepts may seem elementary, they are neither quick nor easy solutions. Only in movies or on television are the problems resolved by the end of the show. But if concerned parents work to repair the breakdown of the family, then we can all enjoy more happy endings.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, The Erik Blair Diaries. Whitehead can be contacted at Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at

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