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TALKING IT OVER
September 13, 2000
Let me describe an after-school scene you might recognize: A teenager is slouched on the couch in the family room, doing his homework in front of the television. It's 4 p.m., and he's watching reruns of a video music award program featuring performances by gangsta rappers. The lyrics to the songs are obscene and celebrate violence; and some female singers sport costumes clearly designed to shock. A 15-year-old is sitting in her room with the door closed, surfing the Web and talking to strangers in a teen chat room. The youngest son is in the basement with his friends, playing a video game where the one who kills the most wins.
Ask the harried mother or father who has worked a full day and is trying to get a meal on the table, and you're likely to get this response: "I'm doing the best I can. And anyway, how do you even know there's a connection between violence on TV and the real world?"
In my 1996 book, "It Takes a Village," I wrote about just such a family and about the steady stream of articles, books and studies that have documented the harm the media's depictions of violence have on children. According to the research, saturating young minds with graphic and sensational violence prevents them from developing the emotional and psychological tools they need to deal with the threat and reality of violence. Children become, in effect, numbed to violence.
Everywhere I go, parents tell me that the violence their children are exposed to is so pervasive that they, too, don't know what to do about it. That is why, shortly after the tragic shootings at Columbine High School, the President and I, along with the Vice President and Tipper Gore, who has been a courageous leader on this issue for 20 years, hosted a meeting of media and gun industry executives, parents, teenagers, community leaders and other experts to talk about appropriate responses. It was an unprecedented gathering that has spawned action on several fronts.
On June 1 of last year, the President called on the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to conduct a joint study to answer two questions: Do the industries promote products they themselves acknowledge warrant parental caution in venues where children make up a substantial percentage of the audience? And are these advertisements intended to attract children and teenagers?
Based on the results of the study, which were released this week, the answer to both questions is a plain and disturbing "yes."
For nearly eight years, this administration has looked to every segment of our society to seek a broad range of solutions to youth violence. In many instances, the industry has been responsive, leading to many positive accomplishments: a 1994 conference on how the coverage of violence on the news affects children; a White House roundtable on the importance of public television to children; a White House Conference on Children's Television where industry executives agreed to air a minimum of three hours of educational children's programming a week; the television industry's breakthrough agreement to create a voluntary ratings system; the development of the V-chip; and this year's White House Conference on Teenagers, where I announced the creation of a task force to provide parents and teens the tools they need to navigate all kinds of media -- from video games to sophisticated Internet sites, movies, and CDs.
The results of the FTC study, though, tell us that there is still work to be done. The entertainment industry has taken steps to identify and flag inappropriate content. But we now have irrefutable evidence that individual companies routinely target children under 17 as the audience for movies, music and games that, according to their own ratings, are too violent. In addition, children under 17 are frequently able to buy tickets to R-rated movies and can easily purchase music recordings and electronic games that have parental advisory labels or other restrictions.
These practices are unconscionable and outrageous. They not only undermine the credibility of the industry's own ratings, they frustrate parents' attempts to make informed decisions about their own children's exposure to violence.
The report calls on the entertainment industry to end the practice of target marketing to children; make sure that more stores and theaters check identification before selling games or tickets to children under 17; and help parents understand the myriad of ratings.
I say we must go further. I have long advocated a uniform rating system with simple and clear codes that aid parents who want to enforce restrictions at home. And, all retailers should follow the example of Wal-Mart and Kmart, both of which have pledged to check the identification of children purchasing restricted video games.
Television, movies, video games and music are here to stay, and will continue to be influential in shaping the opinions and behavior of our children for years to come. In the face of an industry that targets our children with harmful products, we parents must be willing to assert our power as consumers and take back our authority over what our children see and hear in our own homes.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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