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Religious Movement Views Media as Cause of Youth Problems


A fast-growing religious movement in the U.S. says violent media messages are responsible for most of today's troubles with young people, and its followers see God as the only solution. Producer Zulima Palacio talked to some of the group's members, as well as to a variety of experts who see other causes for violent behavior among the young. Jeffrey Young narrates the story.

Every month somewhere in the U.S., thousands of young people are drawn to the call of music. Teens love it. It is loud and fun and they can dance.

But this is not a typical rock concert. It is Christian music, and it includes prayers and multiple references to God. The concerts and many other youth activities are organized by a group called "Teen Mania." It is part of a national campaign driven by evangelicals and conservative Christians who say that this generation is under attack by a culture of drugs, sex and violence, mostly promoted by the media.

Reverend Ron Luce is the president and founder of "Teen Mania." "What young people are being assaulted with right now, no other generation has ever been assaulted with,” says Luce. “They are being hammered and destroyed by the culture, the garbage from New York, Hollywood, music world, MTV, they're being destroyed, so this is a battle."

Luce says that about 200,000 teens from 60 different Christian denominations have joined his group's youth activities. He says they reject violent media messages and support the study of the Bible as a solution.

"Churches are rising, saying we are going to go after young people just as passionately, just as fervently as the Madison Avenue marketers and the people who make the garbage music, and reach out to rescue them,” continues Luce. “We are calling our churches to double their youth ministry every year, double it every year for the next five years."

Some of Luce's young followers expressed their commitment to God as the only real solution to what they say are today's heavy messages celebrating drugs, sex and violence.

"I think that teenagers should do sports and do a lot of extracurricular activities and all that stuff, but honestly, [it's now too much]” says a citizen. “God alone is going to give you that sense of worth, that real joy and just life."

Many people believe that media messages can influence young minds, but they also say there are other factors involved. The U.S. Congress created the Hamilton Fish Institute to study school and community violence. Beverly Glenn is its director.

"We know for example that the U.S. Surgeon General says that about 11 percent of young people has serious mental illnesses,” says Glenn. “That works out to about four million kids. There are about 59 million kids in kindergarten through 12 education in America. Four million of them are in trouble."

Glenn says that millions of young people watch TV and play violent video games daily but never show signs of violent behavior.

"This is almost the first generation of young people who have had unfiltered messages to the kinds of things that only adults get to hear and see,” adds Glenn. “I think young people are doing very well, because most people are not mass murderers.”

Glenn says that many studies have shown what works well to keep young people out of trouble and away from violence -- things like small schools, academic achievement, sports, arts and music. She says religious activities are not the only solution.

"If religious organizations are really engaged in youth development, no proselytizing, but youth development support, that works to develop young people."

Many say that knowing what triggers violent behavior is a complex question. Dr. Paramjit Joshi chairs the Department of Psychiatry at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C.

"Many people who commit mass murder may have a mental illness, but I am sure there are some who don't and it is just an act of violence with no regard for the other person,” says Dr. Joshi. "We know that the rate of violence is increasing, especially in the U.S. There are many factors and media is just one piece of it. There is access to fire arms, frustration among the youth and many psycho-social factors."

While the followers of the "Teen Mania" movement see God as the answer to all questions, when it comes to specifics of youth violence, Dr. Joshi and Beverly Caffee Glenn agree there are many reasons, and many causes. They also concede there are still many questions, but few answers.

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