A recent study by neurosurgeons out of Case Western University lends support to what many parents have suspected all along: teen recklessness is profoundly influenced by the media. The impetus for the study, which was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, is the alarming rise in injuries from the increasingly popular “sport” known as car surfing, whereby an individual attempts to “catch a wave” on the hood of a car.
Besides the obvious concerns over the growing number of injuries, particularly to the head, doctors set out to understand why anyone in their right mind would partake in such foolish and risky behavior. What they found was that the recent spike in car surfing injuries was not without precedent. In fact, they seemed to occur along with the release of influential movies and video games that depict this activity and may very well inspire teens to act them out.
According to the findings, the act of car-surfing finds its roots in the mid-1980s with the release of the movie “Teen Wolf,” where the lead character “surfed” the suburban streets on the hood of a car. Car-surfing, however, seemed to fade from the repertoire of teen activities as the popularity of the movie waned.
By the end of the 90s, however, car-surfing was back with a vengeance, and along with the injuries came an increase in fatalities. The first jump in fatal accidents occurred between 1998-99 and coincided with the release of the first two versions of the hugely popular video game Grand Theft Auto. The second spike in fatalities happened between 2000 and 2002 with the release of two more Grand Theft Auto games as well as the incredible popularity of MTV’s show “Jackass.” And finally, a third rise in fatalities occurred in 2005 with the release of, you guessed it, yet another version of Grand Theft Auto and the increasing popularity of YouTube.
Interestingly, the researchers saw a drop in these injuries and fatalities from car surfing during the periods when there were no new releases of Grand Theft Auto or Jackass.
So what does it all mean? Are these significant causal relationships or simply another case of misguided accusation? Well, when it comes to the lives of children, it is difficult to take such information lightly. And while some reckless and even stupid behavior seems inevitable when it comes to teenagers (though adults are hardly immune), I can’t help but feel that popular media must bear some of the responsibility due to its prevalence and influence in our lives. Furthermore, popular media today seems to promote imagery and stereotypes that are extreme to the point of being ridiculous, especially in the case of certain video games.
That is not to say, however, that popular media deserves all the blame. After all, we as parents are clearly allowing our children to have access to these messages, and are perhaps falling short in our duty of teaching them enough common sense to avoid doing things that are so dangerous and downright senseless. And, of course, our children are the ones acting them out. Nobody is forcing them, though peer pressure can make kids do crazy and regrettable things.
In the end, maybe it’s not a bad idea for us to take a step back from our busy lives and spend more time with our children and have a better idea of what they are doing. I realize that this is easier said than done, and at some point teenagers want nothing to do with us. However, maybe if we made a sincere effort to be a part of their lives early on, then it might translate into more sensible decision making later on their part. It’s a stretch, I know, but at the very least it would let them know we care. This can go a long way to making them feel safer and more secure, and isn’t that what being a parent is all about?