20 January 2008


I would like to discuss the desirability of showing videos of animal slaughter to young children. This is a rather important topic to parents who “eat ethically” and want their children to do the same. (I am using this term so that I can include everyone who includes themselves in the near-vegetarian to vegetarian to near-vegan to vegan categories. To exclude anyone from some purest drawing of ethical dietary boundaries reminds me of the classic observation of Leftist political groups: they might agree on 99% of items of mutual importance, but will search out the 1% difference so that they might hate each other.)

First, why show any films of slaughter to your children, if they already have the same ethical diet as you? What would be accomplished? My daughter, now 15, has never consumed meat, fish, or eggs, as she was raised with the same diet as her mom and I. What good would it have done to show her slaughterhouse videos? I, myself, do not want to fill my mind with such images. One goal for myself is to protect my mind from images of violence and barbarity. For this reason I have chosen to protect my daughter from such images. Analogously, I am anti-capital punishment, so for the same reason I do not need to attend executions to be any more against them. Do I need to travel to an American military prison to observe waterboarding torture to be against torture? My mental equanimity (and my daughter’s) is perhaps the greatest resource I have.

Besides, young children have difficulty using information from a televised event to understand real-life situations (Troseth, G. L, and J. S. DeLoach. 1998. “The Medium Can Obscure the Message: Young Children’s Understanding of Video.” Child Development 69(4):950-965). And, the ability to learn from televised images lags behind the ability to learn from live, observed images (Schmitt, Marie Evans et al. 2005 [Jan.] “The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six: A History of Research.” The Center on Media and Child Health, Children’s Hospital Boston). Furthermore, research shows that three-year-olds, when viewing TV, think the action in fact occurs inside the television set itself (Troseth and DeLoach, above). These studies question the watching of TV by young children in terms of comprehension and practicality of learning.

What reaction young children do have is a greater responsiveness to visual images. Thus, their fright reactions reflect their level of cognitive development. That is, something that LOOKS frightening will probably be more likely to frighten young children. Among very young children, violent media have been shown to elicit fear responses that are long-lasting, linked to PTSD symptoms, and can occur after one exposure (Kappos, Andreas D. 2007. “The Impact of Electronic Media on Children’s Mental and Somatic Health.” International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 210(5): 555-562). I recall a Dracula movie my dad took me to when I was young. I spent part of the time on the floor of the theater trying to avoid the terrifying images that were gripping my mind. Even the sounds created within me a horror that I still remember. Perhaps that is one reason I later had frequent nightmares. No one thought that my innocent mind needed protecting. No one knew otherwise back then, when less was known about developmental psychology.

From allowing children to indiscriminately watch TV, with its nearly constant violence, and taking children to see frightening and violent movies, it’s a long jump, I know, to equating those two actions with carefully explaining and preparing one’s children to view a film about the slaughter of animals. Yet, the evidence is there to cause a parent to pause before taking the step of deeply affecting a young mind with possibly a life-changing experience, especially involving powerful electronic images, an experience that potentially could turn out deleteriously, and one that is not required for parents who already model an ethical diet. Children--and most emphatically including their formative minds--do need our protection, even from the "truth," when they are not developmentally ready.

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