Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence
(Basic Books, 2002)
Gerard Jones, founder of Media Power for Children, creator of the Art & Story Workshops, and a writer published in the New York Times, Utne Reader, Harper's, and National Lampoon. Jones is also a former writer for Batman, Spider-Man, Ultraforce, and Pokemon comics. His previous books include The Beaver Papers, The Comic Book Heroes, Honey, I'm Home! and many graphic novels.
Killing Monsters is, in many ways, a response to the squirming, soft-pedalling contingent of media critics insisting that children (aged 6-18) can't handle much more than reruns of Barney in terms of thematic content pertaining to violence, sex, and fantasy. (For example, Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence by Dave Grossman and Gloria Degaetano and See No Evil: A Guide to Protecting Our Children from Media Violence by Madeline Levine). Killing Monsters holds the line against a flanking movement of ultra liberal love-and-peace-and- fluffy-white-bunny-rabbit hippies on the left and Christian Coalition conservatives on the right - both of whom wish to stomp out, smother in red tape, mandate scare-tactic labels, and otherwise abolish entertainment involving violence.
Through his own experience as a parent, writer for children, and drawing on supporting research and interviews with dozens of psychologists and educators, Jones argues that violent video games, movies, music and comics provide a safe fantasy world within which children learn to master powerful emotions. He argues against studies linking violent media with violence in society, and posits that it is children's ability to understand the difference between the imaginary and the real that makes these things appealing.
Jones also argues that parents need to understand that what this mediated violence means to children is very different from what it means to them. Children, he argues, are seeking fantasy realms and symbolic journeys in which they build heroic hearts, kill monsters, stand against fear, perservere through terrible odds. And even just to simply have a chance for non-harmful catharsis of feelings of frustration, anger, and fear.
Jones is compassionate toward parents that are afraid of the influence of pop culture over their kids, but has a firm response: "entertainment has its greatest influence when it's speaking to something that isn't otherwise being addressed in a child's life." In other words, if they're concerned about the role of popular media in their child's life, adults need to step up and offer a balancing influence or alternative - not rob the child of one.