November 20 marks the day on which the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. In 2016, the Convention celebrated its 27th anniversary with Universal Children’s Day, a “day of activity devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the Charter and the welfare of the children of the world.”
The Convention was the most widely and most rapidly ratified international human rights treaty ever. Only two countries have not yet ratified. It sets out a number of children’s rights, including the right to life, to health, to education, and to play, as well as the right to have a family life, to be protected from violence, to not be discriminated against, and to have their views heard.
Universal Children’s Day (UCD) is not simply a day to celebrate children for who they are, but to bring awareness of children around the globe who have succumbed to violence in forms of abuse, exploitation, and discrimination. On the basis of the Convention and joint effort by all the participating countries and regions, the UN invites us to promote and celebrate children’s rights on this day and to continuously build up a living-friendly environment for children in the world through dialogue and action.
Invitation to commemorate UCD is posted on the websites of Québec’s Ministry of the Family, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Unicef-Canada. According to the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection….”
In the context of North America, Edupax focuses attention on provisions of Article 17 of the Convention:
State Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.
To this end, State Parties shall:
(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29; …
(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being. [emphasis mine]
How many TV programs contravene these small and apparently benign criteria?
Never before in the history of humankind have people been soaked in such a deep and wide media ocean, controlled by professional marketers who tell parents what’s good for their children using sophisticated and increasingly more seductive technology and techniques. Screen-entertainment professionals get paid to use the most recent knowledge in neurology and psychology to increase “brain time availability“ so it can be sold to marketers. Young brains are vulnerable prey to this constant barrage. The appetite of industries doing business in the fields of digital entertainment and marketing tolerates no obstacle 0r limit. Nobody, and no government, can regulate their thirst, which obeys only one supreme authority: the market. In such a context, only education, including media education, can help rescue youth. What else can block these modern and powerful child abusers for whom mental and physical health of kids and teens are worth nothing? All around us, more adolescents (and their parents) search for treatment against nomophobia and ways to reduce the risk of digital dementia. Addiction to social networks, video games, and pornography are real and profound, and the damage is long-lasting.
Back in 1980, the Government of the Canadian province of Québec banned advertising that targets children. The marketing industry fought the ban, arguing that it denied its freedom of speech. But the Supreme Court of Canada disagreed. During the last forty years, Québec has been—and still is—the only jurisdiction in North America, along with only a handful in the world, that dared to protect its children from the appetite of marketers. Benefits have been evaluated by researchers in Vancouver, B.C., and Illinois in 2011, with results revealed to the public one year later in the New York Times. Children in Québec have been found to be amongst the least obese in Canada. Protecting children from harmful material has shown to be beneficial to the health of future generations. This lesson is good not only for North Americans, but for all governments across the world.
Edupax also invites parents to consider tips by French psychologist Sabine Duflo.
Edupax denounces the use of violence to catch children’s attention and keep them glued to screens. Cartoons are still extremely violent, some say among the most violent on television. Social media networks are common vehicles of defamation, a cruel mental form of violence. Despite denial by the media and some consumers, the impact of violent entertainment is real, is known, and is fully documented by scientists in Québec and abroad.
Research and Action to Combat the Potential Harm to Children
In 1995, Kimberly Young founded The Center for Internet Addiction, providing treatment for Internet addiction using specialized cognitive-behavioral therapy. This was the first evidenced-based recovery program in the United States, designed to fight various forms of Internet addiction, including video games, social networks, and pornography. In the last 20 years, Dr. Young has authored many books and blog posts to provide advice to parents on how to diagnose these forms of addiction, how to prevent them, and how to heal them.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Grossman argues that violent video games are murder simulators. They are used by the army to facilitate the act of killing in combat situations. He writes that “with the advent of interactive ‘point-and-shoot’ arcade and video games, there is significant concern that society is aping military conditioning, but without the vital safeguard of discipline. There is strong evidence to indicate that the indiscriminate civilian application of combat conditioning techniques as entertainment may be a factor in worldwide, skyrocketing violent crime rates, including a sevenfold increase in per capita aggravated assaults in America since 1956.” What happens when kids next door—in other nations—use the same “murder simulators”? Grossman seems to suggest that the increase in aggravated assaults can be explained mainly and mostly by frequent brain exposure of civilians, at an early age, to increased amounts of violent entertainment. Data from over a dozen countries show that serious aggression rates have increased in Europe and other regions of the world.
Canadian researcher Linda Pagani (University of Montréal) found that toddlers who watch more television are at higher risk for more aggressive and antisocial behavior toward other students at age 13. According to Dr. Pagani, these conclusions confirm previous study results published in July 2015 showing a correlation between the amount of time spent watching television by two-year-olds and the probability of becoming victims of bullying at age 9.
Conclusions by researchers Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman suggest that “material injurious to children’s well-being” should include technological entertainment that kids use on a daily basis while parents are kept ignorant about damage to cognition and to children’s behavior. Their review of research literature “reveals that violent video games increase aggressive behavior in children and young adults [and that p]laying violent video games also decreases prosocial behavior.”
Victor Strasburger at the University of New Mexico reviewed 60 years of research on the impact of violent entertainment on attitudes and behaviors. Well over a thousand of these found a link between what kids watch and how they act. The negative impact of video games is even more dramatic. Dr. Strasburger’s conclusions match the almost unanimous conclusions of the scientific community, as reported in Media Violence and Children.
According to Strasburger and Barbara Wilson, the cost of exposure to media violence keeps growing. Quoting John Naisbitt, they point out that “In a culture of electronic violence, images that once caused us to empathize with the pain and trauma of another human being excite a momentary adrenaline rush. To be numb to another’s pain—to be acculturated to violence—us arguably one of the worst consequences our technological advances has wrought. That indifference transfers from the screen, TV, film, Internet, and electronic games to our everyday lives through seemingly innocuous consumer technology.” They go on: “Do studies support the notion of desensitization? The answer is an unqualified yes. Research shows quite clearly that physiological arousal becomes lessened with continued exposure to media violence.”
Edupax invites teachers to sharpen critical judgment of their students with these writing prompts. (These are in French, but you can easily translate them with your browser’s tool.) Feel free to use or adapt these questions as appropriate to your classroom or educational program!
Further Reading for Teachers and Students
Call to Action for UN Secretary General Study on Violence Against Children (Edupax)
Media Violence Fact Sheet, Stop Youth Violence
Media Violence, Why Is It Used to Abuse Children? How to Oppose It and Win
Promising Practices to Protect Children From Media Violence
Promising Practices to Protect Children From the Increasing Power of Big Media
Jacques Brodeur is the founder of Edupax and a veteran media educator. He is also a physical and health educator, freedom of information activist, founding member of the Action Coalition for Media Education, and creator of the 10-Day Screen-Free Challenge.