Children most affected, as violent media escapes censure in Qatar
Monkey see, monkey do. Often we use this phrase to describe the observational learning skills of children – they learn by imitating what they see. So when they are exposed to cartoons, news, games, TV shows, books that contain violence, how do they draw the line between fiction and action?
Though Qatar’s censorship regulations make certain content online and on television inaccessible, this is primarily restricted to what’s seen as pornographic or erotic.
Violence does not receive the same censure. In fact, there is an increase in the sales of video games, some that contain violent content as well, according to Sheikha Najla bint Faisal Al Thani, Director of Publications, Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.
A panel on ‘Media Violence and Our Children: How much is too much’ at the recently concluded Ajyal film festival, discussed violence in media, and how to protect children from its adverse effects.
“First games were played to win; now children play to kill, behead or decapitate.”
“90 percent of movies, 68 percent of video games, and 60 percent of TV shows show some depictions of violence,” Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor for Common Sense Media pointed out. Seems nearly impossible then to keep children bubble-wrapped and violence-free.
“I was in the desert over a weekend and I saw that a little boy get very scared of a chopper flying over us,” Dr. Khalid Al Muhanadi, a psychologist, recounted. “Apparently, in the video game he plays, he bombs people with a chopper. People die. He thought he was going to as well. He thought real life was the video game.”
Dr. Muhanadi feels the exposure to and consumption of violent media is so excessive, some children lose the ability to differentiate between make-believe and real-life.
Who is answerable?
Attempts are made to keep a check on violent video games, but it’s not always effective.
“In the last few years, we have noticed an increase in stores that sell video games and other electronic games in Qatar. Obviously this is due to the increased demand by children,” Sheikha Najla said.
Surprise visits are paid to stores selling video games, “unfortunately we find many who violate the regulations.”
Legislations, charters, laws and so many other guidelines are laid out to protect children from violence in the media but unfortunately only a limited amount of control on content can be exerted.
“First games were played to win; now children play to kill, behead or decapitate. Children are becoming accustomed to violence. If there happens to be a dead cat on the road, children laugh at it,” Arabic actress Huda Hussain pointed out, saying children were desensitised when it came to violence.
“Families need to have control over what their children are watching.”
The reality of violence
But it’s not just games and entertainment. “The media shows bloody images and news of wars and violence, but nobody thinks about how this can be explained to children,” Firdoze Bulbulia, Director, Moments Entertainment noted.
There is substantial data to support the damage caused by media violence among children. For example, younger children who watched news coverage of the 1991 Gulf War were more disturbed by visual images of planes dropping bombs and people dying, whereas older children and teens were more upset by abstract threats of terrorism and nuclear war or the possibility of the conflict spreading.
UNESCO has conducted research to understand the relation between children and media violence. “Studies (by Commonsense Media)* suggest that highly aggressive children are more affected by violent behaviour; and that family conflict has been positively associated with violent TV watching and violent electronic game play,” according to Venus Jennings, Programme Specialist, UNESCO.
Monitoring is the only option
As access to media is so easy, there is no escape from violent content. Hence it becomes even more important to monitor the consumption of it.
“Family gatherings are dwindling. We’re not educating our children emotionally to deal with what they learn from TV shows. Children are unable to read and write their feelings because they are exposed to so much violence,” Dr. Muhanadi said.
“Self censorship and self control is the way to go. Families need to have control over what their children are watching.”
*This article has been updated.