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Why I Support Government Policies and Regulations that Protect Children from Violent Entertainment

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Boston City Council President Provides a Model for Us All

On Tuesday, August 13, I had the opportunity to testify at a Boston City Council Subcommittee hearing held on a proposal submitted by the Council President, Stephen J. Murphy, banning children under age 18 from attending live cage fighting and mixed martial arts events in Boston. The entire City Council is due to vote on the proposal this week.

For over 30 years, I have studied the impact of violence, including entertainment violence, on the lives of children. I have also looked carefully at how we can protect children from exposure and counteract the harm that it can cause. My work leaves little question that the passage of President Murphy's resolution would contribute to the wellbeing of children and Boston and beyond -- such as future mixed martial arts events like the one which was held at Boston Garden last weekend.

Here are some of the most important reasons why I strongly support the ban:

  1. Because children think differently than adults, they are especially vulnerable to learning the harmful lessons that directly witnessing entertainment violence can teach -- about how people treat each other, about the role of violence in society, that violence is fun and exciting with few consequences and that grownups glorify and value it. And it can lure children into increased interest in and involvement in escalating levels of entertainment violence over time, including other live cage fighting products such as video games.
  2. Years of research confirm the harmful consequences of entertainment violence in children's lives. While I know of no research specifically examining the impact of witnessing live cage fighting and mixed martial arts, hundreds of studies have looked at the harmful effects of children witnessing entertainment violence. Children behave more violently after viewing it -- in their play and in their treatment of others. They are less likely to sympathize with victims of violence, can become more fearful and see the world as a more dangerous place and exhibit sleep disturbances and nightmares and other symptoms of trauma. These effects can be long-lasting and may contribute to serious physical aggression, including spousal abuse and criminal behavior, years later.
  3. Live cage fighting escalates the level of violence being portrayed compared with past entertainment violence themes. Violent entertainment theme developers and marketers know that fans get habituated and desensitized to a certain level of violence. What seemed extreme 20 years ago seems almost tame today; hence the levels of entertainment violence have continued to increase over many decades -- with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a leader in live cage fighting, reaching a new pinnacle. With each new escalation, the level of harmful impact it will have on children may also increase.
  4. The fact that entertainment violence can contribute to increased levels of violence among children, does not mean that children will do exactly the extreme levels of violence that they see. But children who see it are at risk of being more aggressive than they otherwise would have been. Critics of legislating government protections of children, such as the one proposed here, often argue that children do not leave such events and do the same kinds of extreme violent behavior that they saw on the stage -- thus it is argued that there isn't a problem. This argument subverts focus from what we know about the real dangers of children's exposure.
  5. Live entertainment violence events have no rating system requirement. Ratings help parents make informed decisions about what is appropriate for their children. Movies are required to have age ratings, as are video games. While there is controversy about the current "T" (that is, for teens ages 13 and up) age rating for the highly popular video games linked to live cage fighting -- such as, UFC Undisputed -- events with live entertainment violence do not have such a requirement. Yet research tells us that witnessing real entertainment violence can have a bigger impact on children than screen violence.
  6. Government has a long history of protecting children from forces in society that are known to harm them. Despite arguments that First Amendment rights protect live cage fighting from government regulation, current regulation of children consuming tobacco, alcohol, pornography or serving in the military totally refutes this claim. Government has long taken responsibility for protecting children from harm's way -- thereby helping parents do their job. For too long, corporate marketers have had free rein on making profits in marketing entertainment violence to children, at the expense of children's best interests -- and ultimately all of society will pay the price.

For all of these reasons and more, I have been deeply heartened that Boston is discussing and potentially taking action on this issue. And I hope that Boston's action will mark the beginning of serious discussions among policy makers about how to create policies and regulations that protect and promote the wellbeing of our children from entertainment violence.

To find out more about the petition, visit here.