Can Cable Help Reduce Youth Violence?

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We in the cable television industry have always prided ourselves on our commitment to the communities we serve, and have proven that commitment with many initiatives throughout our history. The most recent shootings in our nation's schools gives us the opportunity to look into our resources and, as responsible members of the community, determine in what areas we can be of service to help counteract the violence and create a safer place for our community members.

Those shootings, which have shocked and bewildered many Americans, remind us of the dangers that exist for children even in the safest settings. The cable television industry is ideally suited to playing an increasingly important role in reducing youth violence. With strong roots in our nation's cities and towns and an ability to communicate directly with the public, cable operators are especially well positioned to help communities take advantage of the tools that are available.

Four years ago, Court TV initiated a broad-based public service initiative called Choicesand Consequences
in association with Cable in the Classroom, AT&T Broadband, Time Warner Cable and other leading cable companies. The program is designed to keep our children out of the nation's courts and has addressed youth violence in a variety of ways. It has produced a middle school curriculum-which has been proven to be effective at reducing adolescents' aggression-a brand new high school curriculum and a series of nationally televised town meetings.

Cable operators in more than 50 cities in 24 states and the District of Columbia have partnered with Court TV in support of those town meetings. Cable operators have helped distribute the middle school curriculum to more than half of the nearly 21,000 middle schools in the nation.

That curriculum, developed in collaboration with the National Middle School Association, is based on actual trial coverage of court cases involving teenage perpetrators and victims. Each case study, including taped excerpts of the trial coverage, depicts a real-life situation in which poor choices made by adolescents had profound and devastating consequences on their futures. The case studies address such issues as teen pranks, daring your friends and fighting.

Teachers and law enforcement officials, who have used the program, have spoken positively about its impact. For example, the California PTA recently asked that the curriculum be presented to its next statewide conference.

The high school program has been developed by Court TV, in collaboration with Street Law Inc., a preeminent, nonprofit curriculum developer. In this case, in order to retain the attention of high school students, the curriculum is based not on actual trial coverage but on excerpts of the award-winning television series, Homicide: Life on the Street. The program addresses youth violence as well as the legal system and covers such topics as bullying, the importance and difficulty of being an eyewitness to a crime, the use of force in self-defense and the juvenile and adult court systems.

For example, in the segment on bullying, which is directly relevant to the most recent school shootings, students are shown a video clip about a high school basketball hero who bullied other students, one of whom then killed the bully. The video shows police interviews with many people in the community who might have been able to stop the bullying but did not. Students are asked to consider what the community could have done to stop the bullying, and then to draft a policy on bullying for their own school.

Through Choices and Consequences, Court TV and its many cable partners have demonstrated both the industry's commitment and had a significant impact. With the continued support of the cable television industry, we hope that both curricula will realize their potential through widespread and frequent use. That support is crucial, because cable operators have the knowledge of their individual communities, know their needs and civic leaders and provide the necessary entrée and on-the-ground support.

Hopefully, these two programs, along with the initiatives of other cable operators and programmers, will help contribute to the reduction of violence among our youth. In a day when so many problems seem intractable, we can offer essential tools that already exist. Every effort should be made to bring them to the attention of parents, students and teachers.

Both the middle school and the high school curricula are accessible to schools free of charge. They can be downloaded at www.courttv.com/choices. The accompanying programming can be taped free of charge through Court TV's Cable in the Classroom feed. Additional information can be obtained by calling 1-800-333-7649.

Henry Schleiff is chairman and CEO of Court TV.

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