June 2, 1999

Last year, 9-year-old Arthur Sawe, a fourth-grader from Seattle, Wash., went to a local video store with a friend. A magazine about new video games caught his eye because, in his words, "the first two pages had fun games, airplane- and car-racing games."

But when Arthur got home and flipped through the pages of his new magazine, he came across this ad: "More fun than shooting your neighbor's cat. Bang! Meow! Bang! Meow! Come on already. It's time you move up the food chain and take aim at something that sounds better when it explodes. And you can, when you grab your gun, included free ... (it'll) have you firing until your fingers fall off."

Arthur knew that what he was looking at was wrong, and although he was worried that his mother would be angry that he had bought the magazine, he decided to show it to her anyway. She was mad -- but not at Arthur.

Arthur's mother gave the ad to representatives of Mothers Against Violence in America, who shared it with The Seattle Times. When reporters wrote an article about the ad Arthur found and other violent video-game ads, it caught the attention of State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, who introduced a bill to research the link between violent video games and the aggressive, often tragic acts committed by children. In response, the Washington State Retail Association unveiled a plan to help video retailers be more responsible about selling children inappropriate or restricted material.

This week, we invited Arthur to the White House, where the President announced that the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice would conduct a joint study on how the video, motion picture and recording industries market their products to children. He also called on retailers to do a better job of enforcing age restrictions on adult-oriented material in a further attempt to keep it out of the hands of children. Then, he held up the magazine Arthur bought and read some of the other ads video-game producers have used to sell their products.

If you think ads about killing your neighbor's cat are bad, what do you think about these? One invites players to "get in touch with your gun-toting, cold-blooded side." This one's truly unbelievable: "Kill your friends guilt-free."

As a nation, we've reacted to the shootings at Columbine High School like almost no other event I can think of in recent memory. In my conversations with young people and parents over the past few weeks, I've been encouraged by their strong resolve to take steps to end violence, not only in our schools, but also in the broader community.

Everyone recognizes that there is no single answer or solution. We must move on all fronts -- from passing common-sense gun-control measures to helping parents spend more time with their kids. And we need to consider the impact of the ways in which media violence is marketed and sold to our children.

A 1972 Surgeon General's Report said: "We know that children imitate and learn from everything they see: parents, fellow children, school, the media. It would be extraordinary, indeed, if they did not imitate and learn from what they see on television." The report went on to say that violence on television causes children either to mimic directly the actions they see or act in a more aggressive way.

Yet today, more than 25 years after this report was written, our culture is even more saturated with TV programs, movies and songs that romanticize and glorify violence. What kind of values are we promoting when a child can walk into a store and find video games in which winning depends on who kills the most people or blows up the most targets?

We can no longer ignore the well-documented connection between violence in the media and children's behavior. America's culture of violence is having a profound effect on our children -- and we must resolve to do what we can to change it. Of course, the responsibility begins at home. But it must be reinforced and supported in our schools, in our houses of worship and by members of the community at large -- including manufacturers, business owners and public officials.

If a 9-year-old in Seattle can affect public policy, imagine what all of us working together can do. We should heed carefully the lesson that Arthur learned and shared with us this week: "I am glad I had the courage to do the right thing. I thought I might get in trouble with my mommy, but instead, I am here at the White House today. I have learned with courage, a lot of good things can happen. Thank you."



April 29, 1997