British teachers say video games cause kids to play more aggressively. What are they missing? Photo by Flickr user wsilver.
The battle for children’s well-being is never-ending. While American Congresspeople consider a warning label on virtually all video games, a group of British teachers has issued new warnings blaming violent video games for aggressive behavior among their students.
Late last month, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers claimed that such games were damaging the “tender young minds” of children. Then, in a speech to the union’s annual conference last week, former ATL president said violent video games (she called them “horrific”) were responsible for an increase in schoolyard aggression.
Let’s look a little more closely at what they’re saying:
ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “I think what we are talking about, first of all, is the amount of time children spend locked in their room. The fact that children spend hours locked in their rooms playing computer games, which means they’re not interacting, they’re not playing and not taking exercise.”
Okay. So it sounds like she’s concerned that kids aren’t getting outside to play and roam around. Right?
Mrs. Sherratt, a teacher at Riddlesden St Mary’s CofE Primary School in Keighley, West Yorkshire, says her class of four and five-year-olds was seen in the playground “throwing themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies” to mimic scenes from violent games.
She adds: “I began to reflect on what children have been playing over the last few years and realised we have noticed a marked increase in the aggression in general.
“We all expect to see rough and tumble but I have seen little ones acting out quite graphic scenes in the playground and there is a lot more hitting, hurting, thumping etc. in the classroom for no particular reason.”
Hmm. So is the problem that they aren’t getting out and playing? Or is the problem that, when they are getting out and playing, they’re being rougher than the teachers expect? Is the problem that they’re not interacting with other kids, or is the problem that, when they are interacting, they’re doing so in a way that the teachers don’t understand?
There is certainly latitude for teachers to recognize when certain types of behavior — bullying, for example — is hurting a child. However, there’s plenty of latitude as well for kids to play, consensually, in ways that look pretty aggressive to outsiders.
To me, that first description of their play — “throwing themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies” — sounds kind of fun. It sounds like kids, playing and interacting consensually with each other.
Gerard Jones addressed this issue in his wonderful book, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence:
The benefits of rough-and-tumble play are well documented. It can be annoying for parents, it can get out of hand and lead to head bumps, but most authorities agree that it’s normal, healthy, and generally conducive to more confident kids. Profiles of violent adolescents don’t generally show any exorbitant amount of aggressive play early in life and, in fact, often show the opposite: violent teenagers often had trouble bonding with peers in normal childhood play.
Certainly video games — along with television, film, and books — spark the imagination and inform the kind of playing that kids will engage in. But what these teachers aren’t proving, to any degree, is that this kind of aggressive play is hurting anybody.
It may very well be that these teachers, either disturbed by the kids’ enjoyment of these games or unable to curtail it, are grasping at ways to control what they don’t understand. Until they can show that what they’re seeing is truly harmful, I’d suggest not giving their “warnings” too much credence. From what I can tell, these kids are having a good time — and learning in the process.