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Bad Language Moves From Movie Screen To Principal's Office

A FEISTY 10-year-old girl was sent to my office recently after getting into a name-calling and punching match with a boy. She explained how he had started it by calling her some unsavory, racially tinged names. She had returned the foul language. When the boy arrived, he readily admitted that he had used the words, ``but I didn't use any bad words like she did,'' he pleaded.

As an elementary school principal, I spend considerable time each year speaking with children who have been sent to my office because of disruptive behavior. It seems, however, that misbehavior on the bus, arguments in the cafeteria, fights on the playground, and insubordination in the classroom increasingly reflect scenes from movies and television shows currently popular with young children.

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Probably since the days of the first schoolhouse, teachers and administrators have been reprimanding some children for making obscene gestures, using foul language, or ridiculing classmates. When reprimanding children for such misbehavior these days, however, I am often told by the children that they see ``nothing wrong'' with their words or gestures.

I cannot help but wonder how much of this ``nothing wrong'' attitude springs from the growing numbers of children who view TV sitcoms or rented VCR movies alone at home, without supervision, or who attend movie theaters unaccompanied by adults.

These media messages, I suspect, may also account, at least partially, for why I am witnessing such poor language and behavior in much younger children than was true just a decade ago.

Nowadays, children regularly see their ``heroes'' and ``role models'' shouting obscenities and responding to criticism with ``off-color'' ridicule or with obscene gestures.

Listening to the voices on television sitcom soundtracks howl with laughter at sarcastic, put-down comments, noticing theater audiences chuckle at obscene gestures or off-color remarks, impressionable children quickly surmise that such behavior is socially acceptable. As they watch movies loaded with violent or abusive language, unaccompanied by a parent or other trusted adult, children may become confused.

Schools alone cannot combat these media messages. Parents simply have to exercise more responsibility when it comes to their children's television-viewing and movie-going habits. Foul language, harsh sarcasm, and violence are increasingly becoming the norm in the fantasy world of motion pictures and, to a growing degree, in the world of television.

In movies and television sitcoms, the smart-alecky, wise cracking character is often the one who gets the most laughs and attention, often the hero or the one who comes out on top.

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Unsupervised children taking in these images often mirror what they see, perhaps because they assume that such behavior is not only socially acceptable but likely to result in greater popularity among their peers.

Until mothers and fathers supervise their children more closely, young boys and girls will continue to emulate in school the undesirable behavior they see on television sets and movie screens. And I will continue to have to deal with the effects in my office.

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