If a stranger came to your door and said, "Hello, I'd like to come in. I promise to keep your kids entertained and while I'm doing that I'm going to show them graphic pictures of violence and murder and rape." What would you do? Would you open the door and say, "Great, come on it. Hey kids, here's Mr. Sleeze..."

What's the difference between this scenario and television? In this terrible time our children, and we have been bombarded with scenes of the results of vicious violence. The pictures of buildings blowing up and falling down were not, unfortunately, new as children who watch a lot of television and films may easily witness such terrifying sites. The attack on the World Trade Center took place exactly one year to the day of the FTC Report against the marketing of violent entertainment to children and not one significant thing has been done about it. Without current movie rating system, acts of violence are often considered acceptable for all ages. As part of healing our children it is time to cease stop giving them role models showing violence as an acceptable way to solve problems.

The YWCA began a program several years ago called ‘A Week Without Violence.' I'd like to suggest a program for families called "Turn Off the Media Violence." Let's stop a moment to think about the impact of what kids watch - on television, in the movies, and in video games. In the aftermath of the horrible World Trade Center tragedy, I've been reflecting about stories I've heard: how a four-year-old cheered when he watched the repeated footage of the World Trade Center attack and how a seven-year-old tole his schoolmates, "It's okay, it's only tv," I know it's time for us to step up our actions and become more vigilant in tuning in to what our kids are watching, what role models they're following, what behaviors they're imitating.

Many of us forget the enormous impact that television has on children. Do you realize that the average American child will watch over 15,000 hours of television during his or her school age years and while spending only 11,000 hours in the classroom? Do you realize that during that time this child will watch more than 200,000 acts of violence, including over 15,000 murders! What impact do you think watching 15,000 murders makes on a child between the ages of 5 and 18? The recent violence in schools has increased parental concern about their children's safety and they are examining the causes of violence. Television is implicated repeatedly for its role in modeling negative behaviors. As we ask ourselves what to do, how to make a difference, let me suggest that you begin making a difference in your own homes and in your own communities. Here's a short list of suggestions that will help you Turn Off the Media Violence:

1. TURN OFF VIOLENT TV PROGRAMS. Many parents feel they can't say no to their kids. When your kids want to watch a program that you find is full of violent, racist, or other unsavory programming, tell them that they can't watch it. This is good parenting and sometimes it requires a little "touch love" thrown in.

2. Establish clear ground rules. For example, be sure to check the ratings of TV programs, videos, video games and movies before telling your children they can watch them. Be aware that recent studies of the MPAA (feature film rater) and RSAB (video game rater) have shown that more than half the programs they rated for a general (G) audience were unsuitable for children under the age of 7. KIDS FIRST!, a project of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, evaluates and endorses videotapes that are otherwise un-rated. You may find their ratings on the KIDS FIRST! web site (www.kidsfirstinternet.org).

3. Don't put TV sets in your children's bedrooms. Studies show that kids with televisions in their rooms watch more than those that don't and it diminishes a parent's ability to monitor either the shows watched or the amount of time watched.

4. Don't watch violent programming yourself during times when your kids are around. Remember, you're their role model, when you say one thing and do another, you're giving them mixed messages.

5. Become critical viewers. Teach your children to become selective in choosing good programming. KIDS FIRST! trains adults to become facilitators for a media literacy club, known as the Junior Film Critics Clubs for kids between the ages of 8 and 13. For more information, visit their web site, www.kidsfirstinternet.org.

6. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Remember, there are good programs for kids and good programs have shown to benefit children in many ways: increasing their cognitive skills, their interpersonal behavioral skills, their career aspirations and their understanding and appreciate of other people and cultures. As Dr. Ed Palmer, former VP of Research at Children's Television Workshop noted: "viewing one hour of good programming a day between the ages of 2 and 12 is the equivalent of two full years in school."

7. Watch together. This enables you to be aware of the things your kids are experiencing and the messages they are hearing and seeing. In the early years of television, viewing was a family activity. Look for programs you can watch together with your child and talk about the shows afterwards. Even when you do watch something that you don't like, turn it into a positive experience by discussing it with your child. Make it fun though, it's not a homework assignment.

8. Be an active consumer. If a program violates your values, write to the sponsor, to the network, to your local network affiliate. Let them know that you're not watching it and why. So few people take time to write letters today that your letter is considered to represent 15,000 people. Let the people responsible for putting this program on the air that you're upset about the program and why.

9. Make a commitment to change. It's hard to change old habits but it's worth it. The morals and values we teach our children today determine what kind of adult they become in the future. There's a wonderful saying the National Association of Family and Community Educators use: ‘If you want to change the world, raise a child.'

We don't need an act of Congress to tell us what to do. We don't need censorship. We are intelligent, thoughtful human beings as well as parents and grand parents. It's time to stop talking about our discontent with the media and to demonstrate our effectiveness as a parent.

Author's Bio: 

Ranny Levy is the president of the not for profit organization, the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, a national, ten-year-old organization dedicated to promoting quality media for children and to teaching children critical viewing skills. Ms. Levy is the parent of two grown children and one grandson. She is a frequent speaker on media literacy and a proponent for pro-social media.