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Straight Talk for Teens Teenagers offer their opinions on the cost of experiencing virtual violence

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Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013 7:09 am

Dear Readers: Last week, “Curious Reader” asked if mass shootings are the price of society’s insatiable appetite for media violence. A furious defense ensued from the male panelists (see our Jan. 19 column), who pointed to mentally disturbed individuals as the cause of mass shootings, not their games, movies and music, which they held sacrosanct.I agreed with the first part — and promised to talk this week about the inconvenient truth that massive childhood doses of virtual violence aren’t innocent either — and that they are causing previously unforeseen neuro-cognitive maladaptions and breakdown. — Lauren

But first, some panelists less captivated by virtual violence:

Hannah, 21, Sausalito: Media violence isn’t the cause of mass shootings, but it is ridiculous to think it has no effect. Speaking as a kindergarten teacher, it is extremely important to protect children's lives from it. Children should be playing outside, getting dirty, building real connections, not shooting others in video games. Regarding the Newtown shooting, with input from the parent body, our school decided to shelter children from the news, which is part of the problem.

Lennon, 26, Los Angeles: As a hunter, I know from “killing” animals in video games, versus killing actual birds, games and movies don’t come close to real experiences of violence and death. They’ve actually detached us from life more than ever before. Farming, hunting, loved ones dying in the parlor — these gave us real life-and-death experiences. Now we watch it on screens.

There is no one reason for mass shootings. But we humans ostracize anyone different: nerds, gays, the overweight, and especially the mentally unstable or emotionally awkward. With nobody to connect with, they fall through the cracks.

Why such individuals didn’t take revenge through mass shootings in the past is uncertain, but doing so makes them a household name on par with John Wilkes Booth. It's absurd! People emulate what they see — yet the news saturates us with these killings.

Ryann, 16, Tustin: As a woman, I dislike video games that glorify war and hate. But every day, my younger brothers are on the couch playing their games or listening to rap. I wish I could ban violent movies and games for children under 18. They would grow up happier, healthier, more mentally stable.

Dear Readers: They would indeed — Ryann is correct. And here’s why: Whenever we experience violence on a screen, our front brain informs us correctly, “This is not real.” Unfortunately, our older, “reptilian” brain, designed for survival reactions, believes it is real.

Every time a violent act occurs, the reptilian brain sends alarm messages that trigger release of the powerful hormone, cortisol, which instantly creates billions of new neural links in the brain to deal with the “danger.” When the “emergency” is over, all the neural links not involved in solving the danger are instantly dissolved by another hormone. This is how our incredible brain stays efficient and conditioned to its environment.

Or in this case, maladapted.

The average American spends five hours a day watching TV, absorbing 20 to 50 violent “bits” per hour. By age 18, that’s almost 33,000 hours — containing over a million violent “events.” What happens, any weight-lifter can tell you: the reptilian brain grows larger, the frontal brain smaller. Scientists are also seeing an alarming breakdown in inter-brain communication.

This means reduced imagination, critical thinking and literacy, more black-and-white thinking, more kneejerk behavior, reduced awareness of environmental signals (desensitization), earlier puberty (from age 15 to 11; the body must reproduce quicker in a world of constant danger), less inter-brain cohesion (more stress, anxiety, anger), and much more. Joseph Chilton Pearce, Jerry Mandera, Jane Healy are just some of researchers trying to get everyone’s attention above the din of the entertainment industry. I refer you to their work.

Fact: We pass the sins of our lifestyle genetically to our children. Often the first couple of generations display minimal outward symptoms. But if we don’t wake up and stop feeding our young this literally insane “mental diet” (sorry, even 5,000 hours is insane), the mental dysfunction of the next generation will ruin us. — Lauren

Straight Talk TnT is a 501c3 nonprofit. Ask a question or join our work with a donation at www.StraightTalkTnT.org or P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol, CA 95473.

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