Tag Archives: children

British teachers say children’s play is more violent than ever. So what’s wrong with that?

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.

How (not) to talk to kids about video games

The family that games together, stays together. Photo by Flickr user sean dreilinger.

A couple of articles have come over the proverbial wire this week, offering advice to parents whose kids play video games. The pieces couldn’t be more different.

In the Vancouver Observer, teacher Howard Eaton uses an Angry-Birds-obsessed youth as a jumping-off point for a neutral-to-negative treatise on kids and video games. He reminds a pair of worried parents about the dopamine effects of video gaming, then meanders into the concept of whether doing “too much of something” (can that be measured objectively?) can indicate addiction.

I know that I often ask myself if my children’s video gaming activity is useful or productive. I find myself saying, “Isn’t there something else you could be doing?” You see, I don’t have any interest in video gaming. None. No interest. I can’t understand how it could be at all interesting. I then expand my remarkable reasoning by saying to myself, “What a waste of time.” I put my own need for valuing your time with productive activities onto my children and then judge for them what is a productive use of time. Simple. I know best, right?

Of course, if you don’t understand someone’s interest in something, then any amount of time spent with it can seem like “too much.” And no, Eaton doesn’t “know best,” as he next refers to that murky neuroscience study that showed that playing video games changed gamers’ brains — temporarily — without acknowledging that just about anything we learn to do will change our brains, because that’s how brains work.

He does acknowledge that video games can serve as stress relief for troubled teen minds — but then suggests that “soccer, swimming, gymnastics, and photography” might be preferable. Remember, this is a guy who doesn’t understand the appeal of video games. Of course he’s going to recommend something else.

He does linger for a moment on studies that show the benefits of video games, but then veers straight back into the question of violent video games and teens. Then, he does another promising thing: asks his own teen what he thinks. And his son gives some smart, if cautious, advice:

“Video games and children has been a somewhat controversial subject for some time now. Parents no doubt frequently ask themselves “should my child be playing this game?” As far as I’m concerned it all depends on the maturity level of the individual child. Does he/she understand the difference between the game and reality, and does he/she have a strong moral compass?

Meanwhile, over at Forbes.com, E.D. Cain talks about how to talk to kids about video games when you’re a hardcore gamer yourself. His kids are too young yet to be gamers, but the question is weighing on his mind. He expresses his conflict in a tongue-in-cheek way:

By the time my kids are old enough to play with me we’ll be on Modern Warfare 8 and Killzone 6 and the violence will all be much more lush and realistic because we’ll be playing on next-gen consoles with Avatar-like graphics.

In the meantime, I’ll have to think about how to talk to them about the things they see not just in games but in movies and elsewhere. As John notes in his piece, they’re going to see this stuff whether or not we let them. The important thing is that you’re able to talk to them about it.

I agree, that is the important thing. I wonder, if you don’t spend time with your kids’ games, if you instead look down your nose at them and wonder why games are so interesting, how you can honestly have that conversation.

Do video games change kids’ behavior?

A mom says her kid gets mean when he can’t play his DS. But is it really the game that’s to blame? Photo by Flickr user GoonSquadSarah.

The press is rife with the message that video games make kids and teens more aggressive. Even though there’s no proof that gaming causes behavioral changes, and there is evidence that video games don’t harm, or even benefit, their players, this idea lingers. Empowering Parents recently conducted a poll, asking parents whether games “affect their child’s behavior.” Sixty-two percent said yes.

The poll quoted one parent, who said:

“My son, who is 9, doesn’t want to stop playing his DS … and when I finally manage to get it out of his hands, he gets mouthy, rude and acts more aggressively towards his brother and little sister. I’m actually considering banning video games from our house.”

I know it’s really challenging when your child is fixated on a particular toy, to the exclusion of family, books, sleep, homework — whatever. You want to do what’s right for them and limit their use of that toy, but kids can be so stubborn. Sometimes asking or setting down limits doesn’t work, and you have to intervene.

But it sounds to me like the problem here isn’t the game, or even the game system. Imagine if someone took your phone away while you were using it, or took a book out of your hands while you were reading it. You might get mouthy and rude, too — you might even get unruly with an innocent bystander, if you felt like the person who took the item out of your hands couldn’t be reasoned with (or yelled at). People who’ve just had their power taken away act out in a variety of ways, including the one this woman is describing in her son.

Kids don’t often feel like they hold much power, and when you do things that take power away from them, they frequently do things to reclaim that feeling of control. It might make more sense to collaborate with your son to develop some reasonable limits on using the DS — ones that he agrees to. Here are some excellent tips on how to approach it. Of course, “no DS at all” can be a consequence if he doesn’t collaborate with you. But don’t blame the game system for his behavior.

Unfortunately, Empowering Parents isn’t revealing many of the details of this poll. They aren’t sharing what questions they asked, or providing much description of the answers. They also made a very strange leap from “62% of respondents said that playing video games affects their child’s behavior” to “numerous studies suggest that virtual violence in these games may make kids more aggressive in real life.” (There’s a big difference between “affects behavior” and “makes kids violent,” folks.) Nevermind that their example quote mentions the DS — whose games feature cartoon violence at best.

Parents, have you noticed whether gaming affects your kid’s behavior in any way? If there’s a change, is it a good or a bad one? How long does it last? What have you done, if anything, to set limits on your kid’s video-game time or game choices? If you’ve done that, has it changed anything?