Debate on Negative Media Influence Continues
> 8/7/2006 11:16:37 AM

In summer 1999, 12-year old Floridian Lionel Tate shocked the country and the world by killing a young girl while imitating moves he saw performed by professional wrestlers. Tate, convicted as an adult, received a life sentence for first degree murder. Defense attorneys originally planned to place the blame on the television programs that inspired him, attempting to call several prominent wrestlers to the stand. They were unable to pursue this strategy, but the case renewed longstanding debates on the nature and depth of the media's influence on children.

Two recent studies add more fuel to that ongoing fire; one in particular claims that children who watch wrestling programs are more likely to commit violent acts and carry weapons. Previous studies by the same group indicated that teens who  reportedly engaged in date fights after consuming drugs or alcohol were also more likely to enjoy watching wrestling programs. Of course, many of the children who enjoy these shows simply share a greater predisposition toward violent behavior, and the new study offers no absolutely definitive link between the two, simply stating that those watched wrestling more often were involved in more violent incidents.

In a separate but relevant study, researchers drew an equally tentative link between teenage preferences for sexually explicit music and a likelihood to engage in underage sex acts. Researchers surveyed more than a thousand young people between the ages of 12 to 17. They asked questions about sexual activity as well as musical habits, conducting additional surveys both one year and three years after the initial questioning. Researchers rated the sexual content of work by many of the artists in question, placing their material into degrading and non-degrading categories. Results indicated that subjects who preferred sexually degrading music were more likely to initiate intercourse; they were also quicker to progress toward advanced sex acts. This was less true among subjects who listened to music of a sexual but non-degrading nature. Again, though this study is interesting and somewhat disturbing, it does not conclusively determine that listening to certain types of music inspires kids to have sex. Hearing about explicit sex acts may change a young person's perception of such behaviors, but the body of blame cannot hang on the music in question. Home environments play an indispensible role in later development, and the fact that many parents do not educate their children on these issues at a young age is certainly more relevant than the music they choose.

In the Tate case, defense attorneys argued that Tate did not understand the possible results of his actions because he was so used to seeing wrestlers left unhurt by similar moves. He did not understand that these wrestlers are simply entertainers who perform choreographed sketches. Kids often experience greater difficulty in distinguishing between fantasy and reality, but this research seems only to reinforce the common belief that parents should be wary of allowing children to watch excessive amounts of violent programming - not because these shows will specifically lead kids into illegal or dangerous behavior but because such preferences may indicate a pre-existing attraction to violence.

Cases like that of Lionel Tate are extremely rare exceptions to the general rule, and children who have no clear definition of inappropriate behavior can benefit from related treatments. Unfortunately, Tate's later actions confirmed his violent tendencies: prosecutors joined the many pleading for leniency after his trial, and he was eventually released at 17 after serving three years in prison He pled guilty to second-degree murder and received a plea bargain of ten years probation, but later pulled a gun on a pizza deliveryman. Tate is currently serving 30 years for gun possession and violating probation.

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