Cat Killings Not Childhood Antics; Must Be Taken Seriously

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On the front page of today's paper, there is a story about a group of teenagers who have been beating and shooting neighborhood cats in Pine. Some of the killings were videotaped and were shown at Payson High School. A teacher reported a female student coming to class, crying and traumatized, after watching the video.

In this pet-loving community, rumor of the feline brutality spread quickly and the newspaper has received a steady stream of calls, e-mails and letters to the editor about the incident.

This episode got us thinking about violence in our culture and how it is communicated to our youth. One of the letters to the editor drew parallels between the behavior of the teens in Pine and the early tendencies toward animal cruelty of the teens in Columbine, Colo., who opened fire on their school in the '90s.

In fact, the Humane Society of the United States reported, "Researchers, as well as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies nationwide, have linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings, and to the recent rash of killings by school-age children."

Before you read further, we would like to define "violence" and our perceptions of it, with a simple exercise. With this editorial you will see three images that have been published in the pages of this newspaper. Each one of them drew strong reaction from at least one reader who used the word "violent."

As you look at the three images, ask yourself which of them you feel are "violent" or inappropriate, and ask yourself why you feel that way for the sake of this discussion.

Images of violence are woven into our culture to the point that we are desensitized to them. From movies such as "Casino Royale" to the evening news, we see people die brutal deaths without a second thought.

And with the proliferation of the Internet, it is too easy for children to see things that are disturbing or perverted.

When people talk about violence among teens, they readily blame video games, but we believe it goes deeper than that.

According to mediafamily.org, by the time a child is 18 years old, he or she will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders on television.

Since the 1950s, more than 1,000 studies have been done on the effects of violence in television and movies. The majority of those studies conclude that children who watch significant amounts of television and movie violence are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.

According to the organization's report, young children have a harder time distinguishing between fantasy and reality and cannot easily understand motives for violence.

Over time, these children become less sensitive to violence and to those who suffer from violence.

Before we can decide how to deal with images of violence, we must decide where the boundaries are between appropriate and inappropriate imagery. While we have fielded several complaints about the images of teenage hunters celebrating their first kill that we publish, and while we agree that those images are violent, we also see them as an integral piece of our rural culture in the Rim Country and we publish them as rites of passage along with our other Milestones.

In fact, as one member of our editorial board suggests, children who go hunting with their fathers are taught to respect guns and their power. They experience "violence" firsthand and understand the consequences of pulling a trigger in a way that a teen who never goes hunting and only sees guns used in the movies will never understand.

We do not advocate censorship of movies or television, but we do believe that images of violence must be paired with education.

We also believe that behavior such as the cat killings in Pine must be taken seriously by teachers, parents and law enforcement.

These are not childhood antics. They are signs of sociopathic behavior and a complete lack of respect for life.

These children must learn, now, that violence against anyone -- human or animal -- is unacceptable in our community.

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