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September 17, 2014
The monthly journal for independent thought, ethical standards and moral responsibility The international journal for independent thought, ethical standards, moral responsibility,
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Current Concerns  >  2009  >  No 23, December 2009  >  Taking Our Youth With Us on a Constructive and Humane Path [printversion]

Taking Our Youth With Us on a Constructive and Humane Path

Value education in family and school to counterbalance destructive effects of media violence

by Dr Rudi and Renate Hänsel

(Paper delivered at the conference entitled “Value education, success in life and audio-visual media: The problem of the mediatization of childhood” in Berlin on 19. October 2009. Topic of the paper: “The Impact of audio-visual media on the character formation of adolescents”)

We are going to show that character formation always happens in the context of values. There is no development and no education without values. Next we will direct your attention towards the disastrous psycho-social consequences of our children’s exposition to violence in some of the audio-visual media. These media teach our children a number of amoral and anti-social “anti-values”, which are incompatible with the ethical values of a civilised world. These “anti-values” like hostility, contempt and violence towards humans, conveyed through images, language and interaction, present a harmful orientation for an ever increasing number of children and youths, i.e. for their ways of feeling, thinking and acting, i.e. for their character formation.
The extent of today’s juvenile delinquency in many European countries is a disaster for the affected societies: civil-war-like turmoils in Great Britain, the Netherlands, in Denmark and Sweden, in Greece, France and in Germany. Even in Switzerland – as a study of the Criminological Institute of the University of Zurich from August 2009 revealed – about every third 15 to 16-year-old youngster has become victim to violence and about 25% of them had committed violent acts themselves. The study had been ordered by the Canton of St Gallen in order to be able to evaluate the options of intervention and prevention strategies. The extent of the young people’s experiences as offenders or victims surprised everybody. In order to prevent the enhancement of the youth’s readiness to use violence by exposing them to violence-transmitting media, the young people should learn to sort out such media products that are sensible and to reject the rest and learn to use electronic media in a reasonable way. How can we, parents and teachers, lend a hand to such learning? The adolescents of today will hardly allow adults to forbid them anything; moreover, everybody must be able to handle the computer nowadays if only for the benefit of his later professional life.
Our approach is the following: Only if such learning processes are embedded in an ethical value structure, will our youths have a moral compass at their disposal in order to handle the media in a constructive way. And these ethical values have to be laid in the families and must be strengthened and consistently enforced in societal institutions like kindergarden and school.
Since we know from a life-long experience as teachers and parents that all efforts will be in vain if we fail to put the youngsters off from their destructive ways, we will dedicate the greater part of this paper to this problem and will do so with as much practical relevance as possible.

1. Values are acquired in the context of human interaction

The human being is able to distinguish ­between positive and negative, healthy and sick, becoming and harming tendencies in his life. This way, humans are able to set values, create culture and develop an ethics. The basic principle inherent in all ethical values is that “all activity must serve the humaneness of man, (i.e. the development of the self and humanity to a higher level, the protection and dignity of the individual and mankind as a whole)” (Werner Wiater).

Values are learnt
The psychological, mental and social development of the child begins with the first day of its life and takes place in the context of social interaction with its closest attachment figures in the family and later on with the persons of his nearer and farer environment. This is where the forming of a conscience, ethical behaviour and moral feeling commence.
The basis for such learning processes are only a few predispositions. (In the following we lean on the educationalist Werner Wiater, who very clearly described this early process of value formation):
“Man is born with the ability to perceive (sense) his own actions as being satisfying and comfortable or frustrating and painful.” Furthermore nature endowed him with the ability “to evaluate his actions as being successful or unsuccessful. This is essential for his surviving, since otherwise we would not be able to achieve our aims.” Even in the very small child elementary forms of logical thinking can be observed. Thus the necessary presuppositions are given that humans may delineate criteria, which of their actions are sensible, and which are senseless, which are harming and which are becoming, what is good and what is bad. In the course of his life, each individual acquires – grappling and interacting with his specific environment – “a very personal organisation of behavioural features, qualities, skills and competences and by way of all that his personal value orientation.”
“Whether certain norms and values seem relevant for the individual’s behaviour, which competences and skills are felt to be useful and necessary, is finally essentially determined by his or her socialisation experiences, which are always individually and subjectively assimilated.”
In this process of the infantile development of the personality we, the educators, play an eminent role, since we are the children’s interaction partners and form his learning environment. That is why we are responsible which values are conveyed to our children and how these values are anchored in their emotions and thoughts so that they may guide their thinking, feeling and acting.

Communicating ethical values in the educational process
Parents and teachers have their concepts and ideas what our children should become like in order to make living together successful and thriving. We would like our child to behave decently and respectfully towards people; we wish that he or she enjoys contributing to the family operating successfully. If worst comes to worst, we want him to dash at the necessary tasks and help with heart and mind. He should be able to accept and welcome help from others and should not reject those who want to give advice. We want him to participate in the discussions at the family table about the concerns of the family, the commune and the world, by listening, taking interest, and thinking for himself, asking questions and offering suggestions how to improve things. We want him to solve conflicts without violence. And we would like to see him stand up for justice. To make a long story short: We want him to become a good fellow human and comrade who will later take an active part in working for the common weal. And we want him to be oriented towards values like peace and non-violence, brotherhood and responsibility with all his heart.
That is why we consistently guide our child’s activities to desirable pro-social behavior by reinforcing it; however, we sanction non-social, respectively damaging or destructive behaviour: We let him know explicitly that a behaviour is damaging for himself and for others, that we do not consent, and with increasing age we give adequate reasons and arguments for our measures and we frankly express our own values. The basis for gaining the child’s compliance and co­operation is its desire to obtain our acknowledgement and affirmation and to avoid our negative responses. Since all behaviour of the child, even his feelings and thoughts are target-oriented, we have a powerful instrument here to guide our children’s character development and his value orientation. Research on parental styles (Diana Baumrind) showed that children are more apt to develop pro-social attitudes and behaviour if parents guide them in the above described way with age-appropriate demands and calm but consistent control. This is what Baumrind calls the “authoritative parental style”.
“Adolescents from authoritative families were outstandingly competent and prosocial. They manifested the lowest incidence of internalizing problem behavior and also had a lower incidence of drug use than all other groups of adolescents.[…] Authoritative parents are characterized by their rational, agentic style of control. Authoritative parents successfully model commitment, reciprocity between obligations and entitlements, and integration of agentic and communal qualities. Because authoritative parents are nurturant, both their approval and their withdrawal of approval are likely to be highly effective reinforcers.” (Diana Baumrind, 1991)

2. How do audio-visual media

encroach on the process of value and character formation?
As we all know, electronic media are the clandestine tutors in our families and schools, if not throughout society as a whole. Their intrusion into the formation of values and character is a powerful and serious one. According to the contents, they teach children and young adults – and, by the way, also adults – a number of amoral and asocial attitudes which contradict directly the moral concepts of teachers and parents mentioned above and are incompatible with the convictions of a humane and civilised world.

The tasks of life (Alfred Adler) put high demands on adolescents
Adolescents are facing various challenges during their period of life: when a child goes to the kindergarden, it leaves its small and acquainted family community to become for half a day part of a new community of partially unknown comrades and to obey the instructions of a new reference person.
This is also true for school children. The entry into a community of peers, to learn about letters, numbers etc. challenges their feelings, their courage and their lifestyle, that is their way of tackling a problem.
When a child enters puberty, he or she faces new challenges – which would, however, be well possible to be coped with. Young adults want to prove that they are no longer children, but they cannot yet find their way in the adults’ world. Some feel uneasy towards the other sex, some not. They are concerned with the relation to the other sex. Some are discomforted by school requirements. Some imagine putting their vocabulary book under the pillow to know it all by the next morning. If someone does not get along with a classmate, because he bugs him, because his marks are better or he has nabbed his secret love, it may happen that he persists in narcissistic grievance. In class or in his clique, he wants to be the greatest, the best student, the best sport, the girls’ favourite. Most of the time there is only a little perseverance lacking, a little considerateness, in order to be able to develop his competences step by step. Instead many get stuck in a hyper-sensitivity towards grown-ups’ criticism, educational measures and restrictions.

The destructive role electronic media play
If an adolescent fails in one of these life-tasks, a breakdown of his self-confidence may occur and this can lead to a perverted striving for significance and power, which is then allegedly being satisfied by means of certain electronic media.
The “American way of life” bestowed a full range of electronic programmes on us, the contents of which have only recently been analysed in more detail. They do not communicate pro-social values but reinforce the youngsters’ insecurity, their dejectedness and their fears. Thus they are driven into isolation, but the so-called gamer communities are no substitute; they feign a pseudo-community where there is no social interest, no genuine human relationship, no trust, no friendship, no mutual help possible. Instead merciless competition prevails, and male attributes like coolness, aggressiveness, sadism and power. The youngster believes that now he has more than a hundred new friends, and does not comprehend, why he still feels lonely, frustrated and empty inside nevertheless.
The feelings of weakness and insufficiency, which torment him at school in the morning, seem to vanish in the afternoon, when he is at his computer. In his virtual world all problems can be solved by mouse click. So, the criticism of teachers and parents are not substantial: Is he not a superman, a nation builder, a counterterrorist, an emperor, who can equip whole armies with nuclear weapons, who is God-like, deciding on life or death?
But actually the youth is being retarded in his development – just as is the case with drug abuse – in reality he does not grow out of his feelings of weakness and inferiority. Instead he regresses and trains in violent behavior.
The focus of the programmes is on killing, slaughtering, persecuting the evil forces, crucifying and tormenting, assassinating them, roosting them on the barbecue and vaporizing them with the flame-thrower. Even if the games are less violent, he experiences himself as being above other humans, as deus ex machina, shoving whole nations to and fro, let them wage wars against each other.
The young person, who dares not tackle the tasks of real life, who evades the demands that are put to him, finds the “ideal” compensation in his online-game, a compensation of his feelings of inferiority and insufficiency, and a quick satisfaction of his needs. Also his sexual needs are being severely perverted by pornography; he gets used to live out his sexual fantasies in the internet, as for example, the school-shooter of Winnenden did. In reality, by the “pornografisation of everyday life”, our youth is being deprived of the best of life, i.e. of love, affection and  tenderness. (L. Kusano). This alone is a crime against our youth.
Also the youth music-scene, in particular the hip-hop scene, conveys nothing but violence, crime, drugs and pornography, hate and intolerance. The texts of the so-called gansta-rap are about violence, weapons, drug trade and the brutal life in the suburbs of the big cities, where nobody considers anybody else and only the gang one belongs to is being protected. They are rated as youth-imperiling by the official rating agencies, because they glorify violence, are sexist, misogynist, and hostile towards homosexuals. (Udo Ulfkotte)
The more violence the pictures, the language and the actions contain, the earlier children use violence-conveying media and the more often they use them – these are the unquestionable findings of empirical media effect research –, the more disastrous is the impact on the character development of children and youths. Recent German longitudinal studies proved the connection between excessive use of violent computer games and youth delinquency and even adult crime. (See Hopf et al: “Media Violence and Youth Violence. A 2-Year Longitudinal Study”. In: Journal of Media Psychology 2008; Vol. 20 (3): 79-96.)

Let us sum up
The great majority of international media effect researchers and criminal psychologists found that media violence – and almost all games used by young people nowadays, contain violence in different degrees – exert their influence on emotions, thoughts and attitude in direction towards hostility, fantasies of power and revenge, and thus contribute significantly to the development and occurrence of youth delinquency and adult crime. In other words: These contents that most of the electronic media communicate today, have an extremely damaging influence on character and value formation of adolescents.
Thus a great deal of the electronic audio-visual media which young people consume, are diametrically opposed to peace as an ethical goal in education and society. They tend to eliminate this important educational goal, because they lead to a more reckless use of violence in the life of the individual and in the living together of peoples and nations.
Here, the assumption imposes itself that this way young people are prepared to participate in the present and coming ever expanding wars.

3. How can parents, educators, teachers and other socially responsible persons take countermeasures?

We educationists do not leave it to foreign powers, which values or role models our children and youth adopt, if we want to educate a generation, whose members will once be constructive fellow citizens in our municipalities. Our exaggerated emphasis on the so-called self actualisation during the last decades, on fun as a purpose in life in the fun society and our failure to speak out against destructive and selfish attitudes made many adolescents grow up to be egocentrics with a lack of interest in their fellow human beings. Therefore, more than ever educational emphasis must be put on other aims, i.e. on the ability to social empathy, responsibility and the willingness to act in the public interest.

Pro-social attitudes are developed and strengthened by the person’s activity
In order to strengthen the adolescent’s pro-social attitudes, his own activity is required. He must be active and experience a feeling of satisfaction and a grateful social echo to his actions.  Mere instructions by adults are of little effect.
Even very small children can contribute to the common weal, if we only trust in them to be capable of it and demand it from them as a natural contribution – either in the family, in the classroom or on the community level. Demanding the child’s help in the household reinforces the social procedures within the family, and the child’s self-esteem. (“Our family life runs well, and I am having  a part in it!”) The four-year-old daughter of a colleague, for instance, makes a very good salad dressing and is proud of it. In another friend’s household, the daughters serve the grandmother some compote in the evening and sit with her. She lives in the household and is in need of care; and once a week they visit an ill neighbour, bake a cake or pick a bouquet for her. The family community is not only made up of the parents, and we must clearly make our children aware of that. It goes without saying that we do not anxiously assist them in every step.
In an African family with five children in our neighbourhood, each child has his own task in the social course of events: One is responsible for the laundry, another for cooking, two are responsible for their younger brothers and sisters and one is responsible for the shopping.
In our residential community, primary schoolchildren together with a retired farmer and his tractor regularly collect waste paper, which we bundle and put at the front door. They enjoy this work very much, not only because they have a day off school. Owing to their work, the village is clean, and the older citizens are spared the way to the paper container. These real life activities develop the children’s pride and self-confidence in a realistic way, stabilise the positive aspects of their character and strengthen their whole personality.
In the life of the adolescent positive moral attitudes can be developed and strengthened actively in a sincere interaction with his parents and teachers. We know of young people in our community who learn about attitudes like reliability, mutual assistance, solidarity and care in emergency aid courses. They participate in these courses voluntarily, are not paid, however, they do service to others. Their motivation is the feeling of benevolence and the commitment for important moral values in a society. The experience to stand on the useful side of life strengthens these young people. After three weeks of shoveling mud in a flooded German area, a 14-year-old secon­dary school student said, “That was the best time in my life!” The commitment as rescue medics with the Youth Red Cross or as a young member of the voluntary fire brigade means adventures and pride because of the positive social contribution. If a father tells his son, “I would like to do something for our municipality. I am going to join the voluntary fire brigade – and where would you like to help? ”, he will certainly have a response.
Many young people engage in projects for peace in the world or make a material or idealistic contribution to the improvement of the living conditions in developing countries. The SDC – Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – recently awarded projects in the context of a campaign “We care – you too?” An awarded project consisted of developing a credit system for a village community together with young people from Burkina Faso. Computers and Internet were of essential help.
If these young people make use of electronic media, they will certainly take a different choice. Their activity is then embedded into a firm system of moral values. Thus, they do not learn media competence, but they receive media education (Ostbomk-Fischer). This also includes “education and nobleness of the heart”.

Schools are to teach media education
It is the task of the school to promote the adolescents’ ability to recognise and judge the possibilities as well as the risks of modern media and their effect on the development of children and young people. We believe that the adolescents ought to be sensitised at an early stage for the mechanisms of manipulation. In the 1970s and 80s this was part of the obligatory program for teachers. Even today young people are amenable for this topic, because they do not like to be manipulated, because they do not want others to control them. If we inform them about these mechanisms, they may join in and may develop a psychological defence against it.

Some suggestions
Recently the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” published a file with lessons on “Newspaper at school – reading makes competent” even for primary schools. From this material, the teacher can develop teaching material including the following steps:
1. What kinds of media exist at all?
2. How can media manipulate, and what can we do, in case we are manipulated?
3. What do the electronic media do to people?
Value orientation should be part of all school subjects
A pro-social school culture will strengthen the students’ self-esteem and thus form an orientation for their decisions. In view of the general uncertainty with regard to values, pluralism and the decline of values in our time, school must pay more attention to value orientation and consciously plan its teaching. Probably for this reason, the German state of Bavaria started the initiative “value education” under the slogan of “values make you strong” in all schools of the country, which was started in 2006 already and has continued until today. Following Wolfgang Brezinka, it aimed at “teaching a value-oriented attitude” and the “conveyance of supra-individual standards”. The demands and suggestions, raised and given in the context of this initiative, can be a suggestion for value education at school in general. For further reading see www.werte.bayern.de.

Further contributions
At last we would like to mention some other valuable initiatives. As early as 2003, the Bavarian Ministry for Education and Cultural Affairs forbade LAN parties and violent computer games in schools because of  impairments of the pupils and concomitant phenomena, which negatively affected school education and school order. Other Länder – e.g. the Saarland – have included etiquette into their curriculum.
In 2006, the cantonal and city police in Zurich and Winterthur in cooperation with the educational authorities of the canton of Zurich met with a very positive echo of teachers and the public when they started a prevention campaign after some incidents with violent films on students’ mobile phones. The slogan on the posters was “Violence is cowardly! Help to break the chain of violence. Speak about it! Help to protect others against violence. Act without using violence! Do not remain mute! Teachers, parents and police will help you. Stay clean! No violence on your computer or mobile phone. Violence is cowardly.”
Only recently a colleague from Berlin told us that policemen – usually being the regulatory force in our society – were taking difficult young people on patrol in the evening in the Spandau borough. These young people help them to get into contact with other young people hanging around at public places. The policemen also organise football tournaments in rented gyms with boys who do not have a home.
Another example: The Federation of Berlin Merchants founded a “reading assistance” project for Berlin’s primary schools and will soon do so for high schools, as well. Hundreds of old-age pensioners support teachers in their subject-specific and educational work as “reading mentors”. The bond of trust, which they establish to the children, enables the kids to make progress in learning and social behaviour. They show good behavior vis à vis their helpers and improve their school achievements.
However, what is still lacking is the politicians’ commitment to the well-being of our youth. It is true, the coalitionists promised in article 6.3 of the coalition agreement of 11 November 2005 entitled “Growing up without violence” that they wanted to improve “the protection of children and young people effectively, because the current regulations are not sufficient in view of the rapid developments in the field of the new media in order to effectively oppose the increasing endangerments of young people”. However, only little has been done since then. No prohibition of the production and the selling of killer games, no sufficient protection of our youth. It looks as if it was left to us to take countermeasures.

4. How can we forge an alliance with our children and young people?  

To conclude, we briefly want to mention, which attitude of the adults is required to win our children and young people over for co­operation in the humane approach.

• We certainly have to take them as equals, not as children, otherwise they will not trust us, feel underestimated and offended.
• Our relationship must be honest – on both sides.
• It is of great help to demand from the young people to take up some responsibility. This way they feel that we have confidence in them.
• We should demand a genuine contribution for the common weal. That strengthens the adolescent’s self-confidence. It may not be a dalliance, no “educational trick”.
• And we must set an example of what we require from them, we invite them to become active together with us.
• We should also demand that they listen to us if it concerns their well-being and the well-being of others.
• We cannot forbid a young person to use the computer. He or she needs it for school and for their future jobs.
• What we can also try is to take her or him by his pride and his honour: “You will certainly not sacrifice your precious time to the billions dollar game industry! You have better things to do. Come on …”

Anyway, we must find a way to win the young people over for the cooperation with us:
“Wer in der Kinderstube, in der Familie nicht für die Gesellschaft und für die Mit­arbeit gewonnen wird, wird fortan auf unsozialen Wegen gefunden werden. Kann ihn die Schule auch nicht erlösen, erschwert sie ihm vielleicht wissentlich oder ohne ihr Wissen die Einkehr zur Mitarbeit, so leistet sie seinen Vorbereitungen zu Verwahrlosung Vorschub. Sie macht sich mitschuldig, wenn sie dem Kind die Abkehr von der Mitarbeit erleichtert. Es bleiben dann dem Kinde nur wenige Möglichkeiten übrig. Unter ihnen ist die Verwahrlosung die greifbarste und verlockendste.”
(Alfred Adler, in: “Soziale Praxis”, Wien 1921)

In the past 100 years, since a pioneer of youth support made this statement, we should have lived and learned.•

References:
Baumrind, D. (1987). A Developmental Perspective on Adolescent Risk Taking in Contemporary America. In: Irwin, C. E. (ed.). Adolescent Social Behavior and Health. New Directions for Child Development. San Francisco, p. 93–121.
Baumrind, D.  (1991). Parenting styles and adolescent development. In: R. Lerner, A.C. Petersen & J. Brooks-Gunn (eds): The encyclopedia on adolescence. New York, p. 764.
Glogauer, W. (2006). Wie Kinder und Jugendliche durch Sexmedien und Pornographie zu Sexualtätern werden. In: Hänsel, R. u. R. (Ed.) (2006-2).
Hänsel, R. u. R. (Hrsg.) (2006-2). Da spiel ich nicht mit! Auswirkungen von «Unterhaltungsgewalt» in Fernsehen, Video- und Computerspielen – und was man dagegen tun kann. Eine Handreichung für Lehrer und Eltern. Donauwörth.
Hentig, H. v. (1999). Ach, diese Werte – Über eine Erziehung für das 21. Jahrhundert. München/Wien.
Kusano, L. (2009). Sexuelle mediale Gewalt. Der “Arschfickersong”, in: www.vgmg.ch, “Medienbildung” (www.gwg-ev.org)
Ostbomk-Fischer, E. (2008). Menschenbild und Medienbildung. In: gwg.ev 1/08
Schneider, H. J. (2002). Vorbeugung gegen tödliche Schulgewalt. In: forum kriminalprävention 4/2000, p. 26–28.
Staub, E. (1979). Positive Social Behavior and Morality. Vol. 2. Socialisation and Development. New York.
Ulfkotte, Udo (2009). Vorsicht Bürgerkrieg. Kopp Verlag
Wiater, W. (2003). Wertorientiert denken und handeln lernen. In: Katholische Erziehergemeinschaft (Hrsg.). Christ und Bildung 04/2003, p. 4–9.
(Translation Current Concerns)

Theses

1. Thesis: There is no education without communication of values.
Value education goes with character development.
2. Thesis: Many of the electronic media transport contents which are directly opposed to the ethical values of a civilised society.
3. Thesis: Family and school must lay ethical value orientation and reinforce those values and virtues that are directed towards the common weal.
4. Thesis: We will only gain our children’s compliance and co-operation if we succeed in forming an alliance for humaneness with them, on equal level.