I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the case involving two 12-year-old girls that attempted first-degree murder on their friend at a sleepover. Everyone is trying their darnedness to blame their violence on something other than their own depraved souls. People are blaming literature, movies, and video games. No one is blaming their upbringing.
First, what the girls were reading barely counts as literature. Pulp fiction is great entertainment, don’t get me wrong, but literature is an art form. (The difference between literature and pulp fiction is the difference between film and viral YouTube videos. There’s a place for both.) LITERATURE teaches empathy. Even religions use stories to teach empathy to their followers. Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables? Fiction is necessary. Storytelling is what separates us from the animals.
Secondly, media isn’t the cause of violence, but it can be a symptom of it. If there’s a correlation between violent TV and violent children, for example, that probably means that violent children are more likely to watch violent television. Correlation does not mean causation. Violence on television does not necessarily cause violence. If a violent child watches Animal Planet, they will probably get more thrills from shark week than Meerkat Manor. But you know who else likes watching shark week? Totally well adjusted people. (Sorry if I’m mixing up my networks. I haven’t had cable in over 6 years.)
The difference is sometimes upbringing, but honestly, even great parents can raise terrible human beings.
The real difference is that some children are empathetic or they learn to empathize. Some children are wise—they can predict consequences, and some need to learn that actions have consequences.
Those girls clearly had no empathy when they tried to murder their friend. Were they sociopaths? Or had they just not learned to empathize?
I am not a naturally empathetic being. I am naturally calculated. I’m an INTP. I value being smart over being nice. Like any other child, sometimes I could be cruel growing up. I was predisposed to having a temper and sometimes resorted to violence. But you know what? I learned to empathize. I made friends, I read novels like The Giver and Number the Stars, I saw broken relationships, I became a Christian, I matured in my faith, I got married, I had children. Sometimes my kids have the ability to push my buttons and that old monster rears her snake-tendrilled head. But I read novels, I connect with people, I pray.
Taking away pulp fiction, movies, television, or any other media isn’t going to change these kids. Throwing them in mandatory religious education isn’t going to change these kids. What they need is literature. They need empathy. Without empathy, they won’t see past themselves, they won’t consider consequences that don’t directly apply to them, and they won’t give a damn about morals.
Am I an idealist? Sure I am. You can’t force kids to read. But you can show them movies with empathetic characters. You can let them watch superhero shows that teach good versus evil at its simplest. You can find commercial literature that is fun to read but still generates empathy and at least some exploration of right and wrong, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.
Why do you think we’re seeing a resurgence in superhero movies and dystopias? We want to know that there’s a such thing as good and evil. We want to be able to tell the difference. Is it reality? No. But the great thing about fiction, about literature, about movies, is that they can take what isn’t true and show us what is truth.
Teach your children empathy. Teach them consequences. And for heaven’s sake, supply them with good movies and fiction.