By Pam Louwagie


The website boasts a long menu of horrors captured on video: impalements, hangings, suicides. Click on “beheading,” for instance, and after agreeing to continue through a warning about explicit content, viewers can watch masked men in a purported Mexican drug cartel pull out a machete as they surround their kneeling victim. Under “execution,” a video shows the shooting of an alleged infidel in Iraq.

They are memory-searing, nightmare-inducing scenes for most people, but they are an Internet destination for some teens and young adults — including the Waseca (in the US) teen accused of plotting a school massacre, according to his parents. The videos have raised worry among parents and caught the attention of some public safety officials. The Canadian government is charging the producer of one of the grisliest sites for corrupting morals.

While violence on screen and in video games might not necessarily provoke inappropriate behaviour, mental health experts say, it can affect those who are vulnerable or prone to violence. The effects of true gore videos in particular may not be getting enough consideration from researchers, said Abigail Gewirtz, associate professor in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. “We probably haven’t paid enough attention,” she said.

Fifteen miles from Waseca, in Owatonna, tattooed young men ran their painted skateboards over ramps and pipes at a skate park one recent evening. Most said they’d seen a video of an execution, brutal fight or bad accident. “It’s, like, what kids get a kick out of nowadays,” said one skater in a white T-shirt and baseball cap, who didn’t want to give his name.

“It’s worse than it should be but you can’t stop it,” said another.

The videos are shared on social media or surreptitiously shown in school, in the back of a classroom on somebody’s phone or on a school computer when a teacher isn’t looking, they said. Zach Beese, 21, watched a few of the videos — one of an execution shooting, another of a group of boys murdering another boy with a hammer. Other kids egged on classmates to watch.

“They kind of, like ... showed it to everyone,” Beese said. “They said, ‘Hey, check this out, it’s gross.’ “

Beese and others said they watched only a few and that was enough to sear their memories. “You can’t erase ‘em,” Beese said.

In Waseca, 17-year-old John LaDue’s parents say their son told them recently how he repeatedly watched the graphic videos as he also consumed himself with making secret, unfulfilled plans to kill his family and set off bombs at the local school. LaDue told his parents that he had become obsessed with the videos and started to like them, his father said.

David and Stephanie LaDue say they aren’t blaming the videos, but they can’t help but believe they were a factor in the darkness that crept into their son’s consciousness. They said they want other parents to be aware of what their children might be watching on smartphones and laptops, away from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers.

“I think people would like to think that this is really an aberration, and in most ways it is,” David LaDue said. But he was surprised to learn that, he said, “not only is it out there, but it’s been consolidated (on websites devoted to it) and popularized.”

His daughter, 18-year-old Valerie LaDue, first saw students watching gory videos on cellphones in the back of a classroom a few years ago, she said. A group of boys were trying outdo each other by watching videos of increasingly violent deaths and showing them to classmates.

“Look at this one,” she remembers hearing them say.

Ashley Wobschall, 21, said one of her Waseca friends posted a link to a Taliban beheading on Facebook once. She didn’t watch it, she said. She’d already seen one year earlier when older kids were watching a different beheading. “It’s around,” she said.

One shock site, which the Star Tribune is choosing not to name, recently ranked as the 6,181st most popular website in the United States, according to, a website that measures Internet traffic. The site’s audience is mostly male and about one-third American. It is viewed mostly from people’s homes

The site’s owner, based in Edmonton, Canada, was charged last summer with corrupting morals after he hosted a video of a man stabbing and dismembering a 33-year-old man.

On the website, the founder calls it a “reality news website” and maintains that people have a duty and responsibility to know the truth about what humans do to others. “Many people seem to live in a fantasy. They seem to look at the world through the rose tinted sunglasses which makes them weak, vulnerable and often-times dangerous. To wake people up to the reality, (the site) was created,” the site says.

It contains warnings about content and says viewers must be 18 to use it. As for children who might watch, the founder argues that children could stumble upon horrific accidents in real life. “Every effort was taken to ensure that children won’t find their way to (the site), however parents need to do their part and monitor their children’s activities while on the Internet,” the site says.

Many experts agree that screen violence has an effect on life violence, but they caution against placing the blame squarely on videos.

Dr Michael Brody, chair of the Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said screen violence is reinforcing and can contribute to an atmosphere of violence and strange behaviour. But videos can’t be labelled a cause, he said.

“I think people who have these ideas or are fascinated by it are obviously going to seek these particular sites and it’s going to give them some type of validation,” Brody said. — Star Tribune/MCT


Fewer parents can tell  their children are obese


Researchers have identified a new culprit in the epidemic of childhood obesity: parents who can’t even tell that their pudgy kids are overweight.

A new study in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ finds that American parents are significantly less likely to make an accurate assessment of their children’s weight compared with parents from an earlier generation. If moms and dads don’t see the problem, they aren’t likely to be part of the solution, the researchers say.

“Crucial to parental involvement in weight reduction or maintenance efforts among children is parental recognition of their child’s overweight status,” the team wrote in the study, which was published recently. “This recognition and the associated health risks are the main driving force motivating parents to take action.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define childhood obesity not according to body mass index (as it does for adults) but according to how a child’s BMI compares with that of other kids of the same age and gender. Children who have a BMI at or above the 95th percentile are considered obese, and those with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered overweight. In 2012, fully 18% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were considered obese, up from 7% in 1980, the study authors wrote.

Previous studies have documented that parents aren’t always attuned to the fact that their kids are carrying around more pounds than they ought to. Indeed, researchers have found that some low-income mothers reject the CDC’s growth charts as “ethnically biased and therefore invalid,” the study authors wrote. (Kids are in denial too, CDC researchers say.)

The new study is believed to be the first aimed at determining whether parental misperception of children’s weight is getting worse.

“As the prevalence of paediatric obesity has tripled within decades, the socially accepted ideal body weight may also be shifting accordingly,” wrote the researchers, who are from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, New York University and Fudan University in Shanghai.

So they looked at data on children between the ages of 6 and 11 that were collected as part of the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey-NHANES, which has been tracking the health of Americans since the 1960s. They pulled records on 2,871 kids who participated in NHANES between 1988 and 1994, as well as 3,202 kids who were tracked between 2005 and 2010. In both instances, their parents (usually their moms) were asked whether they thought the children’s weight was too high, too low or just about right.

In the more recent survey, 83% of the overweight boys and 78% of the overweight girls were judged to be “about the right weight” by their parents, according to the study. Those figures were higher than in the earlier survey, when the parents of 78% of overweight boys and of 61% of overweight girls thought their children’s weight was fine.

Additionally, the proportion of parents who recognized that their children were overweight fell, from 21 percent to 16 percent for parents of boys and from 39 percent to 22 percent for parents of girls, the researchers found.

The trend was more pronounced for kids who were obese. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 26 percent of obese boys were described by their parents as being “about the right weight”; by the 2000s, that figure rose to 37 percent. For obese girls, the proportion of parents who thought their daughters’ weight was fine jumped to 33 percent from 21 percent, according to the study.

Over the years, kids have had to get heavier before their parents noticed that they are overweight. In the earlier survey period, parents would say that their kids were overweight if they were at or above the 84th percentile for BMI. By the later study, that threshold had risen to the 91st percentile, the researchers reported. — By Karen Kaplan/ Los Angeles Times/MCT

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