Your heart has to go out to the students and faculty at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Why, you ask yourself, do senseless killings like this keep happening? There are no easy answers but we have become a violent nation. Where does this violence come from? There is no easy way to get around the fact that we as a society are increasingly exposed to violence in TV shows. Violence on TV should be a specific reason for concern. Children, who are impressionable and susceptible to violence, spend a majority of their time watching television each day. Compound this with our media obsession for crime and we have a problem. Crime sells. Crime is on the news 24/7. Teenagers and young adults who watch as little as an hour of television a day are more likely to get into fights, commit assaults or engage in other types of violent behavior later in life.
The average child spends 25 hours per week watching television, more time than many spend in school or engaged in any other activity except sleep. It is estimated that by the time an average child leaves elementary school, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence. Television teaches viewers, especially young viewers who have more difficulty discriminating between real life and fantasy, that violence is the accepted way we solve problems. Television violence seems to have become more graphic over time. As a whole, the use of guns and other weapons has increased 85% between 1998 and 2004.
Compounding our obsession with violence on TV is the fact that mental illness affects 1 in 5 U.S. adults. This represents roughly 45.6 million people. What makes this situation all the worse is that the rate of mental illness among people aged 18 to 25 was twice as high than among those age 50 and older. It is estimated that nearly 60% of people today with psychiatric disorders are getting no treatment at all. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion dollars each year in the United States. At least 10% of children and adolescents suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that can cause significant functional impairment in their day to day lives.
Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook, was 20 years old and believed to suffer from autism. His parents, according to a relative, would have given him mental help had he required it. Lanza is believed to have suffered from a personality disorder and lived with his mother. Adam could have fit in both scenarios above with a background of violent TV and needing mental help and not getting it. What should shock us is that this type of tragedy may have been preventable but we will never know.
Could it happen again? I suspect so.