This week The Times-Gazette published a letter to the editor from a local resident suggesting that the amount of violence on television and in movies and video games is the driving force behind an influx of violence in society.
While I agree that the amount of violence we are exposed to through TV, the movies and gaming is disturbing — and from time to time makes me the switch the channel or turn a movie off — I don’t think it is the primary reason our country has suffered such a sickening increase in mass shootings and other violence.
Because at least for those like me that have lived about six decades, we have been exposed to a regular dose of violence at nearly every turn since we were young.
Growing up, we watched western after western with more Native Americans than I care to remember getting slaughtered. Maybe in the scenes we watched they got shot and fell over dead without spewing blood everywhere like today, but still we knew they had been killed. We watched the same thing in countless Medieval, Roman Empire era and pirate movies.
As kids, we spent hours outside replaying the roles we watched on TV, using sticks for swords and metal trash can lids for shields.
We watched who knows how many more movies with World War I, World II, Korean War and Vietnam War themes, and saw many more killed. And if that wasn’t enough, on the TV evening news we watched actual scenes from Vietnam, and saw the number of Americans killed every day.
We played with miniature soldiers and killed them off over and over again in all kind of fashions.
And if the miniature soldiers were not large enough for our imaginations, we had G.I. Joe and all his accessories. Do you think little boys played with G.I. Joe like he was Ken and Barbie’s neighbor? Heck no. We played with him like he was a war hero, killing enemies and conquering his foes.
We killed things with BB guns. As we grew, we hunted with more dangerous guns, killed more things, skinned and gutted them, and ate them.
We had dirt clod fights, snowball and apple fights, played King of the Hill, had battles with fruits and vegetables, and from time to time threw rocks at each other. We even shot Roman candles at each other and tossed firecrackers toward one another.
We watched bloody boxing matches, then sometimes would receive boxing gloves as gifts, and would commence to beating on each other.
I would be wager there were more fights at school, and/or a short distance off the school grounds, back in my school days than there are today. They always drew a large crowd, because more often than not they had been advertised through the student body, and lots of kids wanted to watch.
The violence has always been there. The difference, I believe, is that a lot of it in days gone by was tempered by large doses of moral upbringing and more physical activity. We burnt off excess energy and anxiety playing outside until we were told we had to come inside. And we worked a lot — from a very young age.
We had parents — in most cases both a mother and a father in the same household — who taught us the difference between right and wrong. They were there to correct us when we erred, and there with a reassuring nod when we did good.
Now, way too often, families are fractured. Children are being raised by grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, or even siblings. Worse than that, way too many are being raised by abusive and drug-addicted parents who care more about their next fix than their children.
Too often, too many of today’s kids have no morale compass to balance their feelings when they are angry or upset.
I am thankful for the letter to the editor we received this week. We do not receive them often enough anymore. And the author made some valid points.
But I believe that what lots of kids need more than anything else today is to know they are part of a loving family. They need someone to tuck them in bed each night with a hug, to listen to their prayers, and maybe to tell them a little story. They need hugs when they do good, and scoldings when they do bad. They need the gentleness and kindness of a mother, and the firmness and fairness of a father.
And they need to get off their behinds and devices and get some exercise.
Until more children experience those things on a regular basis, the violence is only going to get worse.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.