'Jackass' Kids Misunderstand Media

ByABC News
May 7, 2001, 3:43 PM

May 8 -- A handful of incidents in which youngsters have injured themselves or their friends imitating stunts they saw on television is a powerful reminder of the effect media can have on children, according to pediatricians and psychologists.

Since the music video channel MTV began airing a program in which a young man carries out absurd stunts that in any adult's mind would earn him the show's title, Jackass, a half-dozen youngsters have suffered serious injuries while they said repeating what they saw on television.

"It's cumulative," said Dr. Michael Rich, who serves on the Committee for Public Education of the American Academy of Pediatricians. "It's a stalagmite process, drip, drip, drip and then you get something big. It's a major sea change when you look at the whole population."

Most children are unable to sift through the images presented in media, psychologists say, and are particularly vulnerable to the suggestions in images that are close to their own lives.

In the case of a show like Jackass, children who feel starved for attention or the recognition of their peers see a chance to get it, and many simply are not yet sophisticated enough to understand that the stunts are not being held up for praise but for scorn, experts say.

Images More Compelling Than Words

Among the recent incidents, a pair of boys in New England and another in Florida all set themselves on fire, and a 19-year-old from Minnesota stopped traffic by running around in the rain carrying a chain saw and dressed only in a hospital gown.

In another incident, a 16-year-old from Kentucky broke both his legs trying to jump over a car that was driving at him. He was apparently trying out something he saw on a sneak preview that has since been pulled from the air.

MTV, which is due to receive an achievement award from the International Radio and Television Society on Wednesday, runs a disclaimer on the program warning against attempting the stunts and saying it does not accept videotapes from people who want to get on the show.