will buy kids any video they ask for--'Rambo,' 'Terminator II,'
'Lethal Weapon'--especially when the kid is sick," says Ranny
Levy, who heads the Santa Fe-based Coalition for Quality Children's
Media. "They think it's love. But they don't realize that
such movies cause agitation, not healing."
Levy, at the request of Children's Hospital at the University
of New Mexico in Albuquerque, recently revised that institution's
video library, which was heavy with violence-ridden fare left
by young patients who died or went home. In place of the knifings,
shootings, beatings and explosions, "we put in positive titles
that comforted, supported and loved."
For Levy's young nonprofit
corporation, it was all part of the job. Alarmed by the nation's
ever-rising rate of violence and anti-social behavior among young
people, Levy and a friend founded the Coalition in 1991 to try
to do something about it. Motivating them were these disturbing
* In the kindergarten-through-high-school
years, typical American children spend more time watching television
screens (15,000 hours) than they do in classrooms (11,000 hours).
* By the end of elementary
school, the average child has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000
other acts of violence on TV.
* The federal Centers
for Disease Control in Atlanta have officially declared violence
an "epidemic" in America.
"That kind of
behavior doesn't just come out of nowhere," Levy says. "Most
behavior is learned by replicating behavior seen elsewhere. It
doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that most of the violence
being picked up by kids comes from the attitudes perpetuated on
television, feature films and videos."
So the Coalition was
formed, "to serve as a filter, to sort out the good from
the bad." And according to Levy, it concentrates not on what's
bad, but what's good. "We don't publish a 'bad list.' We
don't issue a '10 Worst Kid Video' warning just before Christmas.
There are two reasons: Others are doing that, and we wanted the
support of the industry."
Instead, the Coalition
publishes a "good list," called the "Kids First!
Directory," in which more than a thousand children's videos
and CD-ROMs have been given a formal stamp of approval, to guide
parents who wish to clean up the small screen--at least in their
own homes and for their own kids.
To earn the Coalition's
endorsement, which is steadily gaining nationwide clout as a purchasing
guide for parents, entertainment companies voluntarily submit
their products and pay a $150 fee for a review by a panel of "jurors."
Some 300 adults, all with professional credentials in children's
work, are on the Coalition's jury, as are about 3,000 youngsters.
Every title is screened by five adults and numerous children.
In their assessments,
jurors are watchful not only for violence but also racism, sexism,
adult-bashing (as in the hit movie "Home Alone'), sexual
innuendo (as in seductive, bikini-clad toddlers) and anti-social
behavior in general. "We go by the integrity of the work,
not the hype behind it," Levy says. "Sometimes people
think we're some weird right-wing religious group," she continues.
"But that's not it at all. Maybe we're slightly feminist,
but mainly we're anti-violent."
With more than 100,000
"hits" a month on its Web site, the Coalition works
for the day when its endorsement is as famous as the Good Housekeeping
Seal of Approval--and the world of children's media polices itself.
"If you really want to change the world," Levy says,
"you must change what happens in the early years. By the
time kids are teen-agers, they're formed."
For more information
about the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, visit www.cqcm.org.