[VIEWPOINT]Children lost in a vast wasteland"In a classroom, I often feel like I am a show host of a television program, not a teacher. At the slightest sign that I am going easy on them, students pick at my words as shown in television comic shows. They just want to pass time making silly jokes. For instance, in an ethics class, at the question of what kind of words are used to console a friend who just lost her grandma, one child answered: 'Man! That hag deserves her death.' Other children laughed their heads off, banging their fists on the desks. When this happens I become afraid of children."
The above was part of an essay written by an elementary school teacher. Of course, the child who gave that heartless remark or the children who laughed at the cruel answer were not necessarily ill-intended. And I also think we should not condemn children of today as an immoral bunch based simply on such behavior. Their reaction may be closer to a conditioned reflex.
If, however, in any case such behavior indeed mirrors the general sentiment or the sense of value prevalent among children of these days, that poses a huge problem.
What kind of environmental conditions are contributing to degrading the morals of today's children? I cannot say for sure, but based on scientific research, television must be one of the biggest culprits. The habit that children tend to turn every situation into a joke may stem from watching too many comedy shows.
Let me give an example.
A comedy program that airs from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays features a woman comedian who tries to evoke laughter by making fun of her flat chest.
Other comedians tease her: "Are they real? It will cost you big bucks to fix your breasts."
She responds: "My chest . . . My chest . . . is like a potato." "They are potato chips."
The above are just some of the jokes that she repeats every
Sunday night -- and these are the less offensive ones. Far more obscene and despicable comments, which I dare not write here, are poured out by the television program every weekend. That is the reality.
The program, of course, is meant for adults. But be prepared for a surprise. The program also tops the rating charts for children. Broadcasters, who are well aware of the fact that children make up a large share of their high ratings, try to air more and more sensational content.
Studies of the influence of television on children show that television tends to help children develop linguistic and intellectual abilities, and presents them with role models.
Television also affects the formation of values. That is why I believe that parents who leave their children exposed to television programs indiscriminately are neglecting their duties.
Many advanced countries regulate children's programs to protect children from violence and sexual content and help them develop emotionally and intellectually. In other words, they have set up program regulations.
For example, in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Australia, television broadcasters are required to fill a certain amount of their broadcasting time with educational programs for children. Governments in these countries also require a child protection time zone, during which the airing of programs that may be harmful to children is prohibited.
In Australia, children's programs are categorized into two groups: for preschoolers and elementary students, and broadcasters are required to air such programs at least 390 hours a year.
What is the situation in Korea? Children's programs are treated like a red herring, and more than 60 percent of programs that are categorized for children are filled with imported animation. It would be a reach to even think about setting a child protection time zone.
As a way to address the current situation, Women's Link petitioned the National Assembly in October 2001 for lawmakers to enact a "Children Television Act." The petition has been set aside, it was not even mentioned at the Culture and Tourism Commitee of the National Assembly.
A country that fails to protect its next generation can never become a fully advanced country.
The writer is the vice president of Hallym University.
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