Studies Show that TV News Violence Frightens
Aired August 22, 1998 - 8:23 a.m. ET
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MARINA KOLBE, CNN ANCHOR: Entertainment shows on television
have been criticized for decades as being too violent for children, but what
about violence on television news shows, and their affect on kids?
BOBBIE BATTISTA, CNN ANCHOR: Two new university studies show
the effect is often frightening, with 51 percent of children in one study saying
that they can recall being scared by TV news footage.
Joining us now to talk about this and the effects on children is Kevin
of the National Association of School Psychologists.
Good morning and welcome to you.
KEVIN DWYER, NATL. ASSN. OF SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS:
BATTISTA: What exactly was the basis of these studies or the outcome
here, the final conclusion?
DWYER: Well, the outcome is that many children are shocked and
frightened by some of the things they see on news on television. You know,
television news sometimes -- the saying goes, you know, "If it bleeds, it
leads." And I think those kinds of television, shocking television, affect
children, particularly, very young children; children who are -- who can't
discriminate between that happening in a news show versus that happening
on their own street or in their own community. KOLBE: But, how much are
young children actually watching television news. I have a six-year-old and
the last thing she's watching is television news. She's watching cartoons.
DWYER: If the news is on at dinner time and the family is sitting around
watching the news, then they're going to be watching it. And I think that if
that happens, I think it's important for parents to think through whether or
not they should flip it off and, in fact, maybe avoid having news on if they
believe that the news will show a lot of violence; particularly, violence against
BATTISTA: So, it could just have a kind of peripheral effect. Even if it's
in the room when the children are playing in there.
DWYER: Oh absolutely. We're not aware -- children are learning all the
time, and if you think -- just think of the television set as a teacher in the
house, and the teacher is teaching your children something, and, you know,
you have to monitor what that teacher is saying to your children.
KOLBE: So, what age is it a good idea for children to watch television?
Because, like you say, they can learn. They can learn that, when they see a
child that's fallen into a swimming pool because they didn't listen to their
grandmother, that you should listen to your grandmother, because or else
you will drown; that there are consequences to our actions; that you should
stay away from strangers. So, television news can sometimes give some
benefits to the children.
DWYER: Oh, absolutely. And I think that here is the way you really need
-- parents really need to think about dialoguing with their kids when
something does, you know, when they do see something that can be a
lesson, and to follow it up with how they, in that family, make sure that that
Kids need to be assured that they're safe. They need to be -- even children
at 10 or 11, 12 years old, but very young children, we need to be careful
that we don't expose them to things that are frightening, because it does have
a long-term impact for some children.
BATTISTA: I was just going to ask you what the effect was exactly on
young children? What should parents be watching for?
DWYER: What can happen is that some children may have nightmares.
They may show fear toward different people. They may show fear in
different places, because those places are similar to the places they saw on
They may be, you know, the shootings in schools -- when the children see
kids coming out of school who are bleeding and wounded, they can become
afraid to go to school, and even get what we call "phobic" to have a
long-term effect on them.
KOLBE: But how much is fear just a natural instinct, because sometimes,
you know, just babies seem to be having nightmares?
DWYER: Oh, of course. I mean, there are -- but, I think that when you talk
to your children, I mean -- we do know that very small infants may have
nightmares. It's interesting, though, that lots of times, if you get to the roots of
some of those anxieties that kids express, you'll find out that sometimes it is
something that they observed in their environment.
Even some of the children's shows themselves, with monsters and things
are even kind of humorous sometimes have a negative effect on very young
children. Particularly, children, you know, if you think of children, preschool
children in particular, we ought to really -- cartoons are not appropriate for
many of those children, and we ought to think through, "What is that cartoon
really saying to my child?" And, you know, if you get into that kind of thing
about news, "What is the news saying to my child, my three-year-old, my
BATTISTA: So if you ignore this, what might be the long-term effect?
DWYER: Well, as I was saying, sometimes the long-term effect, and it's
typical, it doesn't happen a lot, but sometimes the long- term effect can be
some phobic fears; fears that last for a long period of time, and that are very
difficult to understand where they came from. And, you know, the
four-year-old who comes up to me and says -- walks up to me in a room
and says, you know, "Are there any monsters in this room?" And, you
know, that means that somehow or other they've seen something that made
Now, luckily, they can share that with me, but the point is, then we can
through it and share something about it. And this is what parents can do.
They can talk to their kids about things. For example, when there is violence
on television that they see, they can assure them that they're safe. When they
see violence -- fantasy violence, they can make sure that the children know
that that is fantasy violence, that that really isn't fun, that that really does
cause people to die, and that we don't want to see that. You know, we don't
like that kind of thing. We try to avoid watching those kinds of shows.
It's very important for parents to monitor what their kids do see on
television. Keep thinking that our kids learn from what they see. They learn.
They learn a lot incidentally, and we need to be absolutely sure that, you
know, we know what they're learning. We don't want them to be learning
things that are inappropriate.
KOLBE: Kevin Dwyer, thank you so very much for sharing your insights this
DWYER: Thank you.
KOLBE: So the lesson, Bobbie, important to actually watch television with
your kids to explain to them, and do your job as a parent.
BATTISTA: Like anything else on television when they're young.
BY RICHARD FOLKERS
Anthony Fudd loves his Legos. Among the Somerville,
Mass., student's oddball creations is a robot, which sits
inside a refrigerator and confirms that the light really
does go out when the door shuts. Another machine
deals poker cards (though from the bottom of the deck)
to four players. Fudd constructed a Lego copy machine,
including a light sensor that detects writing, and a felt-tip
marker that duplicates it. Fudd would be considered
quite a prodigy--if he weren't 27 and a student at the
prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Clearly, Legos aren't just for kids anymore. Though he
enjoys doing it, Fudd gets paid by Lego to build its new
$200 high-tech toy called the MindStorms Robotics
Invention System. The 727-piece Lego kit lets users (age
12 and up, says the Danish company) make robots.
Along with the familiar Lego blocks, the set contains
gears, wheels, axles, drive belts, and other parts needed
to complete moving creations.
The MindStorms set, which went on sale in September
in toy and electronics stores, is part of a trend toward
toys that think, says Chris Byrne, editor of Playthings
MarketWatch, a toy industry newsletter. "As the price of
technology drops, it's showing up in toys," he says.
"Kids expect their toys to beep and talk back to them
and have an attitude." Other "smart" toys to watch for,
says Byrne, include the Furby from Hasbro's Tiger
Electronics (story, Page 73) and Amazing Amy ($70
from Playmates Toys), an interactive, talking baby doll.
High-tech Legos aren't totally new. They were available
in product lines sold principally to educators for up to
$700. Those sets and the new mass-market MindStorms
spring from a collaboration between Lego and the MIT
Media Lab. There, Fred Martin, an MIT research
scientist, helped develop much of the microprocessor
technology ultimately used in MindStorms sets. He got
involved because he thinks that good toys should lead
kids to constructive play. Lego, he says, is "a toy for
making other toys. It puts kids in the driver's seat."
Technological toys can also keep adults interested.
Some, in fact, use Legos in their work. Rick Lazzarini, a
creator of animatronic creatures for films (like the horror
movie Mimic) and commercials (such as the Budweiser
frog ads), works out creature concepts with them.
Since late July, Fudd has crisscrossed the United
States, demonstrating the possibilities of the new set to
school children and adults. Fudd has built his creations
at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and at
research labs and universities. In Las Vegas, his
card-dealing robot took an impromptu, and uninvited, turn
on a casino gaming table, much to the pit boss's
chagrin. In Cawker City, Kan., another of Fudd's robots
added a strand to what is purported to be the world's
largest ball (at more than 17,000 pounds) of pure sisal
twine. The little Lego vehicle held a spool of twine and
did a lap around the ball.
What makes the MindStorms system work is its brain,
the RCX (the name doesn't stand for anything). It's a
microprocessor about the size of two decks of playing
cards that is usually built into a robot's body. The RCX
sends electronic orders to up to three motors (a set
comes with two), and to sensors that respond to light or
touch. The RCX uses programming instructions sent by
a personal computer to its infrared receiver. (An infrared
transmitter, which connects to a computer's serial port,
is included in the set.)
Iconic. Software, also included, but for Windows 95
only, lets you create custom instruction programs and
send them to your robot's RCX. You simply assemble a
string of icons that represent commands, such as left
and right turns, reverse, sound effects, pauses, sensor
settings, motor speed, or custom-designed functions.
Drag the icons together into a row and send the
sequence off to the toy. Touch a button labeled "run" on
the RCX, and your creation goes to work. One of the
simplest programs causes a vehicle to move forward
when it's hit by a flashlight beam and stops it when the
light goes out.
Of course, you're not going to be a master builder from
the start, but in an hour or two you can be making
machines that appear to think. The instruction book lays
out step-by-step plans for seven robots. One of the most
interesting is the Torbot, a vehicle that moves around on
bulldozerlike treads. On its front are two prongs,
connected to touch sensors to make feelers. If the
Torbot reaches the edge of a table, a feeler senses it,
the robot reverses course, away from the precipice. It's
really a brainy wind-up toy, but you are the engineer.
Point and shoot. If robotic basics get boring or you just
don't have an inventor's mind, there's a Web site (
www.legomindstorms.com) full of ideas. You can sample
from a rotating group of missions, like the Photobot, a
robot that carries and snaps a point-and-shoot camera
(you provide the camera). Each MindStorms buyer also
gets a page on the site, a spot to post robot designs and
pictures. There are also three expansion sets ($50
each), called Extreme Creatures, Robo-Sports, and
Fudd's most impressive creation (made with parts from
several MindStorms sets) is a mechanical arm that
mimics the movements of a human arm. Fudd wears
sensors in his hand, wrist, and elbow, which send
commands to the foot-long arm. It has a wrist that
pivots, an elbow that bends, and pincers made of rubber
tires. The ultimate Fudd Lego creation, though still only
a concept, is a 3-foot-tall machine that walks.
After wrapping up the 8,500-mile promotional tour last
week, Fudd returned to the grind of MIT, several weeks
late for the start of his senior year, as a visual design
and mechanical engineering major. He hit campus,
knowing that someone will ask, and not for the first time,
whether all that expensive education has been
squandered on toys.
Invariably, he says, the questioner will steal a glance at
one of the robots and then gush, "But that's so cool."
kids will speak Furbish
U.S. News-- News You Can Use http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/981012/12furb.htm
And you thought those Tickle Me Elmo or Barney dolls
BY RICHARD FOLKERS
Take a stuffed animal, give it looks like a movie gremlin,
and blend in a virtual pet that speaks its own language
and laughs like David Letterman. You've got a Furby, a
new toy that's a lock to enthrall kids and sure to annoy
The new $30 animated plush toy from Hasbro's Tiger
Electronics wiggles its ears, closes its eyes, moves its
beak, and dances. You can tickle its tummy, pet its
back, feed it, sing it to sleep, and scare it with loud
noises. It will laugh, purr, sneeze, burp, or make other
rude noises. And, it talks.
When you first put in the four AA batteries
(unfortunately, there is no on-off switch on the creature),
Furby says its name, and begins to speak a made-up
language called Furbish. Thanks to a dictionary, you'll
know that "may-may" is "love," and "Dah/doo-ay/doo?"
means "Big fun?"
Over a matter of days, the Furby will begin to speak
English words; it will eventually split its
200-word-and-sound vocabulary between the two
languages. It's not actually learning, but responding to
stimuli in programmed ways.
One Furby will "communicate" with another (through the
infrared port), appearing to teach it songs, laughing
infectiously, or even passing on its cold. Furbys can also
have group conversations, a feature that could prompt
serial purchases. (There will be six fur-color
combinations and three eye colors.)
Furbys are little marvels of technology. They are
controlled by a microprocessor, which juggles signals
from six sensors. There are touch pads on the front (for
tickling) and rear (for petting), a tilt sensor, a light sensor
(it goes to sleep in the dark), a microphone, and the
infrared port. Each sensor has a "priority status," so a
Furby being tickled while held upside down will choose
fear over laughter. Tiger says each Furby will have a
No deaths, yet. Furbys will also respond to commands
in the form of claps, play "Furby says," and dance to
music. (The small instruction book is skimpy in useful
instructions.) Parents of the younger set (ages 6 and up
are recommended) will be glad to hear that, unlike many
virtual pets, Furbys don't die. If unattended for several
days, a Furby will grow groggy and cranky, refusing to
respond until you pretend to feed it. Furbys retain their
memories while you change the batteries.
One cautionary note: Kids will bond with Furbys. The
8-year-old toy tester for this story had trouble letting go.
"Dad, I know you have to send it back [lip begins to
quiver], and I know it's just a toy," she said, "but,
[sniffle] it told me [sob] that it loved me [sob, sob,
sob]." Furby will roll out nationally over the month of
News You Can Use 4/6/98--http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/980406/6heal.htm
BY NANCY SHUTE
Go out and play
I hated PE. It was bad enough in grade school,
when I had to hide behind the most popular girl to
avoid getting my glasses smashed in dodge ball.
Junior high was worse: gym suits with bloomers,
group showers, teachers who looked like Mike
Ditka yelling, "You throw like a girl!" By high
school, I was scheming to avoid first-period gym; it
ruined your hair for the day. It wasn't until years
later that I discovered that breaking a sweat could
be a pleasure, not a penance. And now here I am,
advocating the return of gym class.
That's because these days many American children
don't get much after-school exercise beyond
pushing channel-change buttons on the television
remote. Rather than splashing in the swimming
pool all summer, kids are surfing the Internet. That
life of leisure, delightful though it may be, is setting
up our children to become fat, sickly adults.
Boys and girls who watch four or more hours of TV
a day are significantly fatter than children who
watch two hours a day or less, researchers at
Johns Hopkins University reported last week in the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
Twenty-six percent of American children watch the
tube more than four hours a day. For black children
it's 43 percent; for Mexican-American children it's
31 percent. Such inactivity is troubling, since
childhood obesity sets the stage for a fat adulthood,
and with it, increased risks of high blood pressure,
diabetes, and heart disease.
Teen slugs. Most boys do a pretty good job of
getting off the couch for at least three 20-minute
bouts of vigorous activity weekly. Young girls are
almost as active as boys, but by the teen years
fewer than 65 percent get the minimum
recommended exercise, with 20 percent of teenage
girls getting no exercise at all. Black and
Mexican-American children exercise less than
white children, perhaps because of parents'
concerns about neighborhood safety.
That's a problem because regular, moderate
exercise throughout life is the key to health and
longevity. Health authorities say kids should have
daily PE classes through high school. But physical
education is becoming history in many school
districts, thanks to budget cuts and competition
from other activities. Illinois is the only state that
still requires daily PE in each year of school;
nationwide, most high school students take PE just
one year. The classes that do still exist often don't
offer more than six to 10 minutes of aerobic
exercise. Yet for many kids, particularly those
whose parents have neither the time nor money to
get them to soccer or ballet after school, PE is their
best chance to get a regular workout.
To get kids off the couch, parents need to get
moving, too. It's no wonder that our children are
such slugs, when 25 percent of adults get no
exercise at all. Here's a small sacrifice you can
make for your kids: Give up 30 minutes of TV, and
take them for a walk. It's an investment in your
child's future, it's free, and it pays you the dividend
of a smaller waistline.