The School Mediator
Peer Mediation Insights From the Desk of Richard Cohen January, 2002

in this issue

Why is That Doll Threatening Me?

The Rookies and the Veterans

About Us

Welcome to the January issue of The School Mediator.

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Hoping our American readers had a fitting MLK day, and

Wishing you the best, wherever you are,

Richard Cohen
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates

This month's feature article addresses the increasing violence in media culture and its effect upon young people.

 Why is That Doll Threatening Me?

It was the "punch" button that got me going.

We were in the waiting room of a children's restaurant, and knowing that their clientele was "waiting-impaired"--and unwittingly contributing to same--the proprietors had provided a bank of video games against the wall.

The noise was piercing. From our safe distance we saw explosions in neon colors. Five-year-old Sam was understandably curious, and he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the machines like he was leading a vegetarian to a butcher's case.

We stopped in front of a video basketball game. This seemed harmless enough. As we watched the programmed demonstration, however, it was clear that the digitized players were hitting each other more than the boards. When one player's shot was blocked, he slugged his opponent in the face. Looking down at the console, I saw that next to the "shoot the ball" button was one labeled "punch."

Punching is not allowed in basketball or most other sports. Punching another player actually gets you thrown out of the game!

But the designers of this video experience clearly felt it wasn't exciting enough to play an approximation of basketball as we know it. They had to add gratuitous violence to satisfy their audience.

Diane Levin seems to know why. A professor at Wheelock College in Boston, Levin is an internationally recognized expert on how popular culture influences the way young children resolve conflict. She spoke to about 70 peer mediation coordinators who gathered for School Mediation Associates' 6th Annual Coordinators' Roundtable. And her answers were as disturbing as they were enlightening.

Plainly put: Violence gets kids' attention, and so violence sells.

But it is worse. Because children are incrementally desensitized to violence, the creators of children's toys, games and media programming continually raise the level of violence in their products to grab young people's ever decreasing (and dulled) attention. They are caught in a downward spiral of their own making. And our children are the losers.

In addition, since the 1984 deregulation of children's television allowed them to do so, American television producers and their partners have increasingly tied the marketing of products into children's programming. What results are many disturbing toys sold to kids around the world.

Consider the following examples displayed by Dr. Levin, all toys linked to TV shows and movies, all marketed to four to eight year olds:

*A muscled action figure that comes with an accompanying "wimp" doll designed to be dismembered (sic) by the hero.

*Scantily clad female dolls with bodies and outfits that seem more suited to adults' sadomasochistic sex practices than to children's play.

*Action figures with knives that pop out of knuckles, real voices that threaten to destroy their enemies, and in one particularly gruesome example, the severed head of a woman as a weapon of choice.

*Most timely and chilling, a replica of the World Trade Center towers that children were encouraged to blow up.

Professor Levin's talk helped us understand the roots of some our students' behaviors. Children are developmentally unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality when first introduced to these products and programs. And by age eight, the resulting patterns of aggression are predictive of adult behavior.

Levin urged us to limit children's exposure to what she broadly refers to as "media culture." She expressed alarm that with the increasing popularity of hand-held video games, home computers, and now even DVD players in cars, American children's "screen time" per day is still rising.

Our children don't need "punch" buttons on their video basketball games; they don't even need video basketball games. They need to play more basketball.

Professor Levin also encouraged us to become activists and let media and retail establishments know that we will not tolerate the exploitation of children.

For more information, visit the websites of advocacy organizations Levin helped found: and Or, learn more about the weeklong summer institute on Media Education in a Violent Society Levin teaches at Wheelock.

Your thoughts...


 The Rookies and the Veterans
You have just completed a peer mediation training and have 20 inexperienced but enthusiastic mediators. You also have 12 veteran student mediators active in the program. Both groups have a close bond within their own training cohort, but don't feel comfortable with members of the other group.

What have you done to integrate veterans and new mediators into a cohesive team? Invite the veterans to the training graduation? Hold a social event for all mediators?

Please send us your experiences managing this surprisingly tricky issue.

We will post your responses in the next newsletter.


 About Us
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates has been devoted to the application and promotion of mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform schools into safer, more caring, and more effective institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens of thousands of people around the world.

Call us: 617-926-0994
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Post us: 134w Standish Road,
Watertown, MA 02472 USA

Copyright © 2001 School Mediation Associates. All rights reserved.


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