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Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill

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A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence

Written by Lt. Col. Dave GrossmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DegaetanoAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gloria Degaetano


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On Sale: November 04, 2009
Pages: 208 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42945-2
Published by : Harmony Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony
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There is perhaps no bigger or more important issue in America at present than youth violence. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora: We know them all too well, and for all the wrong reasons: kids, some as young as eleven years old, taking up arms and, with deadly, frightening accuracy, murdering anyone in their paths. What is going on? According to the authors of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, there is blame to be laid right at the feet of the makers of violent video games (called "murder trainers" by one expert), the TV networks, and the Hollywood movie studios--the people responsible for the fact that children witness literally thousands of violent images a day.

Authors Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano offer incontrovertible evidence, much of it based on recent major scientific studies and empirical research, that movies, TV, and video games are not just conditioning children to be violent--and unaware of the consequences of that violence--but are teaching the very mechanics of killing. Their book is a much-needed call to action for every parent, teacher, and citizen to help our children and stop the wave of killing and violence gripping America's youth. And, most important, it is a blueprint for us all on how that can be achieved.

In Paducah, Kentucky, Michael Carneal, a fourteen-year-old boy who stole a gun from a neighbor's house, brought it to school and fired eight shots at a student prayer group as they were breaking up. Prior to this event, he had never shot a real gun before. Of the eight shots he fired, he had eight hits on eight different kids. Five were head shots, the other three upper torso. The result was three dead, one paralyzed for life. The FBI says that the average, experienced, qualified law enforcement officer, in the average shootout, at an average range of seven yards, hits with less than one bullet in five. How does a child acquire such killing ability? What would lead him to go out and commit such a horrific act?



In a full-page ad in the June 13, 1999, Sunday New York Times, the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention said this: "It should not have taken the Littleton tragedy to focus the nation's attention and energies on preventing violence. . . . It should have been enough that children and adults in our society are victims of violence every day. . . . What is it about violence that we refuse to understand?" Indeed, what does it take to get us as a nation to see that there is a problem? Unfortunately, the increasing number of Littleton-like horror shows is what it takes. Does this make sense? And the problem with our reaction to the Littleton massacre is that we isolate the event; we separate out the actions of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris from all the violence that is out there, and we in turn lose sight of what the National Funding Collaborative on Violence Prevention refers to as our "culture of violence."

Let's face it, we live in a violent world. We can see it in many aspects of our surroundings, and if we miss it we have a chance to see it played out again and again in the media. There have been countless books and studies on violence in our society and on how to prevent it and what it all means; there will, no doubt, be countless more. But this book is about how that violence, as it is dramatized on-screen in all its various forms, affects our children and conditions them to be more violent than they would naturally become without being exposed to it. Many have reduced this issue to a chicken-and-egg question: does violence on-screen make people violent, or is that violence merely mirroring what is actually taking place every day on our streets and around the world? We think the former, and we have the evidence to prove it. The point is that kids are not naturally violent; they are not born that way, despite what we may think. There are many factors in what makes anyone violent, but the overwhelming proof says that the entertainment industry, through violent programming and video games, is complicit in conditioning our youth to mirror the violence they see on-screen. Much like soldiers, children can and do become learned in this behavior, not by drill sergeants and trained military professionals, but by what they see around them. It seems logical to most of us but is still hotly contested by certain interest groups, and especially in the many levels of the entertainment industry.

But before we present the facts on the negative effects of screen violence on children--how and why it is making them violent--we need to first look at the overall trends of violence at home and abroad--our culture of violence. Essentially, around the world there has been an explosion of violent crime. Experts may disagree on what the statistics mean--many even suggest that all is getting better, not worse--but, in spite of vastly more effective lifesaving technology and techniques, as well as more sophisticated ways of battling crime, the rate at which citizens of the world are attempting to kill one another has increased at alarming rates over the years. According to InterPol, between 1977 and 1993 the per capita "serious assault" rate increased: nearly fivefold in Norway and Greece; approximately fourfold in Australia and New Zealand; it tripled in Sweden; and approximately doubled in Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, and Scotland. In Canada, per capita assaults increased almost fivefold between 1964 and 1993. And in Japan, in 1997, the juvenile violent crime rate increased 30 percent.

First and foremost, we must cut through the statistics, which are often easy to misread, and demonstrate just how violent we are and what kind of world our impressionable children are growing up in. Any discussion of the effects that screen violence has on our children must be seen through the lens of our society at large. Also, in order to tackle the seemingly insurmountable problem of violence in our world, we must first see what's actually going on. If we can't be convinced that the rate of violence is increasing, we are not, obviously, going to make a priority of tackling the issue. No problem means no need for a solution.

According to FBI reports, crime is down 7 percent. We are experiencing a slight downturn in murders and aggravated assaults, bringing us back to the crime rates of about 1990. But that is far from the full story. To gain a useful perspective on violent crime--among both youths and adults--the view must cover a long enough time period to clearly identify a trend. Up or down variations over a year or two are meaningless.


The goal of this book is to make people aware of what the prolific use of violence in television, movies, and video games is doing to our children. Teaching Our Kids to Kill calls to the table the makers of this violence to address the myriad scientific research on the subject--research that couldn't make it clearer how solid and deadly the link is between this kind of graphic imagery and the escalating incidences of youth violence--and understand and change what they are doing and the dangerous effects their products are having on our children.
Using this book, parents, educators, social service workers, youth advocates, and anyone interested in the welfare of our children will have a solid foundation for effective action. We give you the facts--what's behind the statistics, how to interpret the copious, empirical research that exists on the subject, and the many ways to make a difference in your own home, at school, in your community, in the courts, and in the larger world--so that we all can work together to help end this problem and create a safer environment in which to live. If by doing this we can prevent future Paducahs, Jonesboros, and Littletons, it will be well worth it.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Gloria DeGaetano
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

In a hard-hitting look at the outbreak of violence among our nation's young people, an expert in the psychology of killing and an educator who specializes in the influence of the media on children prove that media violence is a significant factor in contributing to real-life violence in our society.

From the inner-city to well-to-do suburbs to rural communities, there's a rage out there that wasn't there a few decades ago. Children, some as young as eleven years old, are settling their differences in ways unthinkable to most of their parents. What has changed in our society to cause children to resort to violence? What was behind the recent tragedies in Jonesboro, Arkansas; Puducah, Kentucky; and Littleton, Colorado? Some blame access to guns. Others bemoan the decline of societal values. While both concerns are certainly important, neither fully explains why our children are turning into cold-blooded killers at an alarming rate. In Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano argue that what marks the difference between this generation and earlier generations is their constant exposure, beginning at a very early age, to graphic violence on TV, in movies, and at video arcades.  

Since 1950, there have been more than 3,500 research studies conducted in American on the effects of media violence on the population--and all except 18 (12 of which were funded by the television industry) demonstrate a strong, tangible correlation between violent entertainment and violent behavior. Grossman and DeGaetano cite study after study showing that violent imagery makes children and teenagers more aggressive both in behavior and attitude, desensitizes them to violence, and increases the level of fear in our society. Interactive video games take the danger to an even higher level by providing an easily accessible "practice range" where children can perfect their aim--and sharpen their "killing instinct." (Some games, including "Duck Hunt" and "Time Crisis," are almost identical to training devices used by the military).

Many parents and communities have struggled to counteract the pervasive influence of the media on their children. Recently, President Clinton, who cited Grossman as an expert, called upon the entertainment industry to police itself. Stop Teaching Our Children to Kill lays out the truth about the influences your children are exposed to every day, and goes beyond a simple call to "just say no" to violence by providing a host of proactive ways to stop the bombardment in your own home and combat the spread of violence in your community and in the country as a whole.

About the Author

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas, is the author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. He was a Professor of Psychology at West Point, and served as the lead trainer for mental health professionals in the aftermath of the Jonesboro shootings.

Gloria DeGaetano is a media literacy consultant to corporations, school districts, parent groups, and social service agencies. She lives in Bellevue, Washington.

Discussion Guides

1. Gloria DeGaetano writes in the Introduction that when she speaks to parent groups about children and violence, 90 percent of her audiences are female. Do you think that men need to get more involved with what their children are exposed to? Discuss the ways in which the male perspective might make a difference to a child's understanding of violence.

2. Reports linking television violence and real-life violence emerged as early as the 1950s. Were you familiar with any of the studies Grossman and DeGaetano cite before you read this book? Do you think the trend toward greater violence could have been stopped if these studies had received more widespread attention? Compare the public's awareness of the dangers of smoking and their knowledge of the effects of violent imagery. Why were anti-smoking campaigns more effective than warnings about media violence? Are people more willing to accept scientific evidence about physical or medical dangers than they are about social or psychological problems? Why or why not?

3. Why are Americans more culturally desensitized to violence than people in other countries? [Chapter 2] Does this only have to do with the power of the media in this country, or are there aspects of our history, cultural patterns, and beliefs that contribute to this desensitivity?

4. Has the increase in violent behavior by children numbed us to it? Are we forgetting what normal childhood behavior is?

5. Do your children ever have nightmares after they have been exposed to screen violence? How do you comfort or reassure them? Do you think your actions--for instance, increasing security in your home--might increase a child's sense of fear about the world, as the authors suggest in Chapter 2?

6. The Television Violence Act and the Children's Television Act were both passed in 1990, and in 1992 the industry issued its own guidelines in an attempt to reduce violence on television. [Chapter 2] Using specific examples, discuss to what extent the industry has met--or failed to meet--its own guidelines.

7. Do you object to depictions of violence in any form in TV programs or movies children are likely to view? Are there contexts in which violent activities can be used to teach moral and ethical lessons? Is cartoon violence as harmful as live-action violence? Why or why not?

8. What stories or movies frightened you as a child? Discuss how the "bad" characters you encountered--for example, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz or the outlaws in Westerns--differ from the characters in movies or on television today.

9. The authors write that "In today's world, youngsters' play is no longer inner-directed and originally created. In the past, TV characters or movie heroes were a part of generative play experience.--Children would imitate a broad range of adult roles. No longer." [Chapter 3]. What specific changes in our society have caused this? Why are children less interested playing games focused on storybook characters or on real-life role models?

10. Were you surprised to learn about the physical stimulation that results from viewing violent acts and that constant exposure to violent images may create a need for a daily "fix"? Have you ever experienced this phenomenon yourself?

11. Many children are attracted to video games because they experience a sense of control and mastery they don't have in their daily lives. Video producers have responded by creating games that emphasize gaining power through destroying others. What kinds of video games might offer kids a chance to experience control of their environment in a nonviolent way?

12. Drawing on his experience training soldiers, Grossman says, "There are three things you need in order to shoot and kill effectively and efficiently--First you need a gun. Next you need the skill to hit a target with that gun. And finally you need the will to use that gun." [Chapter 4] Which of these do you think is the most significant feature of America's "culture of violence"? Did you feel differently about the impact of video games on a child's ability--and willingness--to "shoot to kill" after learning that arcade and computer games are used, in slightly modified form, in military training?

13. Video producers insist that their violent games are manufactured for and marketed to Video adults, not children. Does your own experience bear out this claim? Would separating violent movies or games in a local video store and insisting that store owners be more vigilant provide adequate safeguards? Does labeling a movie or game "mature" increase its appeal to young people?

14. Do you think that extensive media coverage of real-life violence--for example, the Littleton shootings--contributes to children's committing acts of violence themselves? Should less attention be given to notorious crimes in order to discourage "copycats" who may be lured by the thrill of making headlines? Do the media do an adequate job of reporting on the punishment perpetrators receive and other negative results of violence?


15. Stop Teaching Our Children to Kill presents guidelines [Chapter 5] for protecting your children's best interests without "smothering them in the process," as well as specific rules for reducing your child's daily exposure to violent programming and game playing. Do you think these suggestions are realistic? How do you counteract your child's argument that "everyone else" gets to watch a certain program or play a game that you object to? What techniques have you used, beyond those mentioned in the book, to teach your children that violence is wrong?

16. Citing specific examples, discuss how films or television programs can portray violence in an honest and sensitive way and teach children the importance of empathy and a respect for life.

17. Is it possible to recognize children who are prone to violence and get help for them before they act? What should parents and teachers look for? Do you think the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the young killers in Littleton, bear a large part of the responsibility for the massacre? Should you teach your children to watch out for "warning" signs in their classmates or friends and report them to teachers or parents even if there is no specific threat of violence? Does this put an unfair burden on a child? Is it likely to make a child unnecessarily fearful?

18. Have there been incidences of violence by children in your own community? If so, do you think that politicians, the schools, and other groups concerned with the well-being of the community reacted appropriately? Do you attend PTA or other school meetings yourself? Do you think that a more concerted effort--for instance, an organized project to look into and prevent violence--would be effective, or does the ultimate responsibility lie with individual parents setting standards within their own homes?  

Questions for parents to discuss with children

One of the many ways parents can help stem the tide of violence is through open and frank discussions with their own children. The questions below offer you a starting point for opening a dialogue with your own kids. Some questions are appropriate only for older children.

19. What do you do when you get angry at your friends?

20. Does hurting someone else mean that you are more important or "cooler" than they are?

21. Is harming other people ever "the right thing to do"?

22. What would you do if you heard a friend or a classmate talk about hurting someone?

23. What movies, television programs, and video games are the most popular ones at school? Why do the kids like them?

24. What things or people are you afraid of? What makes them scary?

25. Who are your heroes, both in real life and on television, video games, and in the movies? What do you like about them? Do they ever do "bad" things?

26. If you could make up your own television show or video game, what would it be like?

27. If you had to spend a week without a television or video games, what kind of activities would you like to do?

28. What do you think of what happened at Columbine? Do you think that kids who are teased all the time at school have a right to seek revenge? Other than literally fighting back, how can kids deal with bullies effectively?

29. Do you think television news spends too much time on stories about crime, wars, and other violent situations?

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