Tag Archives: teens

How RPGs make you more confident & successful

In light of Monday’s post about the negative flak directed at Maine Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz and her WoW alter-ego, I thought it would be nice to end the week with his video from the PBS “idea channel” on the benefits of role-playing games — and how they can make you a more confident and successful person.

It gets into all kinds of good stuff, from Martin Heidigger’s concept of thrownness to how gaming can help players overcome shyness, disorganization, and other attributes that don’t fly so well when you’re trying to succeed. Not to mention how to cope with the random chance that life tosses your way.

Remarkably, many of the comments on the video’s YouTube page are thoughtful and coherent (something YouTube comments aren’t known for). Most of them bolster the idea that RPG builds skills that are useful and important in everyday life. What do you think?

Kids keep telling us that heavy metal is good for them. So why don’t we listen?

Heavy metal: it’s good for your kid. Photo by Flickr user rolle-.

Lately, there’s been a spate of commentaries on heavy-metal music, particularly from young fans who want to sing its praises. On this, my 200th post for Backward Messages, I wanted to share some of those perspectives. After all, it’s not like, in 2012, America is suddenly celebrating metal music as a teen passion.

The first comes from Ivan Maheca, writing for MyHighSchoolJournalism.org:

It is time for people to see and appreciate the beauty of this music because it does have it. Metal musicians, according to people who have studied music appreciation and who know about music, have more talent and are capable of playing almost any other genre and style of music there is. Musically Metal has been underestimated as merely “noise” but in reality it is harmony and melody that simply defies the logic and laws of music, therefore under-seen as just noise by those who close their mind to a whole new world of expression.

When I researched my book, many of the kids and adults I talked to said one of the top misconceptions about metal is that it’s just noise, or that it takes zero skill to play. On the contrary, its virtuosity appeals to many young fans — and inspires some of them to take up instruments, and even form bands.

Another common misconception is that metal makes kids depressed or angry. Actually, many find that it brings them out of such moods, to a place of calm. It gives them what they need to feel like they can tackle the world again. Here’s Claire Martens, talking about how that happened for her:

I clung to music in my deepest moments. It was a constant in my life, something I depended on when nothing seemed certain or predictable. Even today, when I really don’t want to do something, I put on a good hard-kicking, air-punching album, very loudly, and allow it to invigorate me or cradle me, or be whatever it is I need it to be.

(Full disclosure: Claire links to Backward Messages in her post.)

Claire suggests that parents introduce young kids to metal, in order to broaden their budding musical palates: “Not only will your kids develop discerning musical tastes and an ear to make any music producer proud, but will live to be well-adjusted creatures.”


With so many articulate teens and former teens singing heavy metal’s praises, why don’t more people listen to them?

Expert: Youth violence is complex, media doesn’t cause violence, reporting on it is tough

A mural in Chicago’s Logan Square. Photo by Flickr user Zol87.

This morning, Poynter.org hosted a chat with Carl Bell, acting director of the Institute for Juvenile Research and a professor in the University of Illinois’ Department of Psychiatry and in the School of Public Health, on how journalists can do better when covering youth violence. The chat was prompted by recent coverage of a wave of youth-involved shootings in Chicago.

Most of the time, Backward Messages focuses on all the things that don’t cause youth violence, even though various sources have claimed they do. Things like violent video games, the occult, and heavy-metal music. I also like to look at the ways reporters get off track when reporting on youth crime — and the ways that misreporting leads us to look for the wrong causes.

So when I heard Bell was co-hosting the chat with Poynter.org managing editor Mallary Tenore today, I jumped in to listen, and to ask questions. Here are some of the highlights:

Carl Bell: I have been studying violence since 1976 and I have learned there are several types of violence – predatory violence, interpersonal altercation violence, gang related violence, etc. There is also mob violence, hate crime violence, violence by mentally ill, systemic violence, etc.

Mallary Tenore: As you’ve studied these various types of violence, what have you noticed about journalists’ coverage of them?

Carl Bell: It has been my experience that journalist regularly do not differentiate these types of violence very well and they mostly get portrayed as predatory violence.

Mallary Tenore: That’s interesting … why do you think that is?

Carl Bell: I think that people are often confused with complexity. … I think journalists have a difficult time. They have to report on complex issues, but keep them simple and they have to get past the editor.

Mallary Tenore: Yes, time can definitely a factor.

Carl Bell: Unfortunately, much that is published or reported on has to have a great hook, i.e. something that appeals to the flight, fight, or freeze response in the brain, not the thinking, discernment, wise part of the brain. So, there is a lot of distortion in the media.

Beth Winegarner: Carl, on the topic of mass murder/school shootings, why do you think reporters so often make reference to a youth’s music tastes or video-game habits when describing youth perpetrators of mass violence?

Carl Bell: There are so many ideas that people have for the causes of violence. When we did the Surgeon General’s report on youth violence we learned, based on science, that many of the things we think cause violence do not cause violence at all.

Beth Winegarner: That’s an interesting response, since many people still refer to the Surgeon General’s report. What things mentioned in it don’t cause violence after all?

Carl Bell: The reality is that risk factors are not predictive factors, due to protective factors. So, a lot of kids want violent videos or play violent video games, but the homicide rates are lower than the suicide rates (both are rare), so things protect kids.

To read the full chat, see the Poynter.org and click at the bottom to read the transcript.

Polish Catholics launch new exorcism magazine

Poland’s Father Aleksander Posacki with the debut issue of a new magazine devoted to exorcisms, called Egzorcysta.

This week, a brand-new magazine launched in Poland: Egzorcysta, a magazine all about exorcisms and spiritual warfare from a Catholic perspective. Poland is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, with nearly 90% of the population belonging to the Catholic Church, and 50-60% observing the faith regularly.

But Poland has been a Catholic stronghold for a long time. Why the sudden increase in interest in exorcisms? Here’s what Father Aleksander Posacki, one of the magazine’s contributors, said:

“The rise in the number of exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling.

“It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism [which Poland adopted in 1989] creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation.”

Egzorcysta‘s chief editor, Artur Winiarczyk, added: “We are living in a time that is a veritable tornado of occultism, esotericism, divination, magic, energy healing and many other phenomena that suck people in.”

Unfortunately, what seems to be “sucking people in” is the exorcists themselves, who first convince people that their troubles (which could range from a bad string of luck to a serious mental illness) are the result of demonic possession — and then convince them that an exorcism will solve their problems.

This new magazine gives pro-exorcism Catholics an even wider platform to sell these claims — and to define the conversation around the practices of minority faiths and occult workers, whom Winiarczyk is suggesting could be causing people to become demonically possessed. For example, one article in the new issue calls New-Age practices “the spiritual vacuum cleaner.”

Of course, any religious organization has the right to publish what it likes, and promote ideas that are in line with its beliefs. That’s how they maintain a following. But when that comes at the expense of other, legitimate faiths and practices, that threatens Polish people’s right to freedom of religion.

It places a special burden on young people who might be questioning and exploring their faith — particularly those with more conservative, Catholic parents. If a teen is exploring paganism, the occult, or new-age ideas, and the parent believes they’re “possessed,” what then? And how does an exorcism resolve anything?

Is it video games — or just plain hormones — that make teens reckless drivers?

A new study finds that kids who play video games that “glorify” reckless driving are risky drivers in reality. What if it’s the other way around?

You can tell the universities are back in session, because suddenly video-game studies are hitting the news again. This time, a cadre of researchers at Dartmouth College, led by Jay G. Hull, looked at the relationship between gamers who play
video games that “that glorify reckless driving” and their real-life driving habits.

Over a four-year period, Hull and his team worked with 5,000 teens aged 14 to 18. Half of the teens said their parents let them play M-rated games; the others weren’t allowed. Once the kids turned 16 and were old enough to drive, the researchers asked about their behind-the-wheel behavior:

A quarter of them answered “yes” when asked if they engaged in any unsafe driving habits, the researchers said. By the final interview, 90 percent said they engaged in at least one unsafe driving habit, including speeding (78 percent), tailgating (26 percent), weaving in and out of traffic (26 percent), and running red lights (20 percent).

The study found that playing mature-rated, risk-glorifying games was associated with an increase in self-reported risky driving, as well as sensation seeking and rebelliousness — qualities measured by the teens’ rating of themselves with regard to such statements as “I like to do dangerous things” and “I get in trouble at school.” And higher rankings in thrill seeking and rebelliousness were directly linked to risky driving habits, car accidents and being stopped by police, according to a statement from the American Psychological Association (APA)

However, statistics from the AAA Foundation (PDF) show that teenage drivers — particularly males — are already the most aggressive drivers on the road:

When analyzed with respect to age, the proportion of fatal-crash-involved drivers for whom any potentially-aggressive actions were coded decreased steadily with increasing age from the teenage years through about age 60, before increasing again. For example, 58.8 percent of 16-year-old drivers, 35.3 percent of 35-year-old drivers, and 26.5 percent of 60-year-old drivers had any potentially-aggressive actions coded.

There are a number of possibilities here, very few of which play into the old Jack Thompson malarkey that blames Grand Theft Auto for everything that’s wrong with kids today. There is absolutely a subset of teens who engage in riskier behavior; when Jeffrey Jensen Arnett studied metal fans in the 1980s and 1990s, he found tons of them listening to heavy-metal music. But, as with metal, I suspect it’s that thrill-seeking teens love intense experiences, and seek out those experiences in fantasy — such as video games — as well as reality.

In other words, it could be the love of risk that makes kids interested in high-stakes driving games — not the other way around. And, as long as these kids are playing out their wishes on the screen, they’re not engaging them behind the wheel, an option that keeps them much safer in the long run.

I’d also like to see some side-by-side driving statistics for teens who play these games and teens who don’t. I suspect they’re actually much more similar than Hull found — and that the problem is adolescence and hormones, not video games.

But Hull doesn’t think so. In fact, he takes it to a very slippery-slope place:

“Playing these kinds of video games could also result in these adolescents developing personalities that reflect the risk-taking, rebellious characters they enact in the games and that could have broader consequences that apply to other risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking.”

All right, readers: do you play games where reckless driving is rewarded? Why do you like such games? Does it influence your real-life driving? How so?

Black-clad Denver stabber is probably not “goth”

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises”: not a goth.

A small article crossed my path this week about a violent break-in in Denver. Police say man forced his way into a woman’s condo, stabbed her, and left. They described him as “dressed in goth attire.”

Hmm. So he looked like this? Probably not. Here’s what they said:

The man, who was white and appeared to be in his 20s, was “dressed in all black,” she said, including a black cap and black eye liner.

So, he was basically dressed like anyone else trying to look like an outlaw? Hm.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone specifically dressing up like a goth to go and commit a crime. My guess is that the perp knew the victim, and that his choice of clothing (or eyeliner, if that’s what it was) had little to do with it.

The police’s choice to use the word “goth” in his description doesn’t help — it seems unlikely that this is someone who “dresses goth” habitually. As regular readers know, goths are generally nonviolent to a fault, often unwilling to defend themselves when directly attacked. All this does is reinforce wrong-headed ideas about goth culture — and not even in the name of tracking down a man who hurt someone.

That may be one reason that parents worry when their kids participate in goth culture. A teen recently wrote to the wonderful Ultimate Goth Guide site, asking for advice because her mom is clamping down on her style:

I’m afraid to talk to [my mom]. She thinks Goths are a bunch of depressed druggies who are crazed over horror, death, blood and guts. She refuses to listen if I start to explain otherwise. Any ideas? I need help!

The girl has already toned down her appearance, but it hasn’t helped. Amy Asphodel, who runs the site, has some excellent advice, including 1) continuing to dress goth but not using the term; 2) making compromises, but saving favorite pieces of goth clothing for when she moves out, and 3) asking her mom which clothes she objects to most, and working around that.

Parents, when your kids try to communicate with you, welcome it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is a way to build bridges, to understand each other better, to love more and worry less.

Video games: educational, or crime-sparking? Informed & uninformed voices in the debate

As teachers look for ways to bring video games into the classroom, a law-enforcement leader says they’re making teens get stabby.

Many people look at the hours that kids spend playing video games and worry about them wasting their time. Others, such as seventh-grade teacher Joel Bonasera, look at those hours and see an opportunity to harness kids’ passion and teach them something.

Apparently Bonasera was, at first, surprised to find that a girl in her class liked killing bad guys in Call of Duty as much as the boys do. That made him realize the pervasive lure of gaming in his kids’ lives. Although he recognized he couldn’t bring a first-person shooter into the classroom, he did discover another popular game around which he could create lesson plans: Minecraft.

As the name suggests, Minecraft offers players the opportunity to build things — houses, fortresses, gardens — using 3D cubes. You also dig for minerals. For many players, it’s creative, fun, and a little bit addictive. So, Bonasera sits his students down in front of the game…

And then he builds a lesson around the game.

“While you’re doing it, just write your thoughts down over here about what you’re doing. Okay, next week let’s plan out what you’re going to do and show the mathematical reason behind that. Okay, the week after that, let’s make a full blown blueprint.”

Other teachers are finding ways to tie video games into their lessons — connecting the hero’s journey in World of Warcraft to a reading of Tolkein’s book The Hobbit, for example.

Meanwhile, in Australia, at least one law-enforcement officer believes video games are to blame for an increase in teen knife violence.

New South Wales’ Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said recently that he believes young people are being desensitized by playing video games for hours. He didn’t specify which video games — or whether knife fighting was involved in them.

He said he had reached the conclusion that there was “nothing more potentially damaging than the sort of violence they’re being exposed to, be it in movies, be it in console games they’re playing.”

“You get rewarded for killing people, raping women, stealing money from prostitutes, driving cars crashing and killing people.

“That’s not going to affect the vast majority but it’s only got to affect one or two and what have you got? You’ve got some potentially really disturbed young person out there who’s got access to weapons like knives or is good with the fist, can go out there and almost live that life now in the streets of modern Australia. That’s concerning.”

However, what concerns me is something he says toward the end of the article:

“We grab them off the streets, children 14-13, who are drunk that we come across in the city in the Cross and in Oxford St.

“We ring parents and say ‘little Johnny’s down here, you better come in and get him’. And parents don’t even care. They say ‘he got there and can get his way back’.”

So he really thinks that video-game violence is inspiring these kids more than the treatment they’re receiving from their parents? Now, I’m certain we’re both generalizing: Scipione probably doesn’t receive that response from every parent of a kid who’s drunk and fighting. Nor is every parent who responds that way necessarily nonchalant or uncaring. At some point when kids act out, parents often would rather see them face police consequences, and maybe that’s what these parents are doing. However, this comment suggests frayed relationships between kids and parents, and that’s something much more likely to spark juvenile crime than blowing off some steam in a video game. In fact, kids with access to video games would probably be less likely to stab someone.

It’s true that with video games, they’re not all good or all bad. There can be video games that make sense in the classroom, and other video games probably best suited for late nights with friends. You can’t say that just because they’re good enough for school, there’s no way a video game could inspire a bad idea. Many — probably most — video games teach people valuable skills. And, once in a while, someone plays one and winds up hurting someone in reality, whether that act was influenced by the game or not. Heck, there’s no saying Minecraft, cute as it is, couldn’t feed someone’s fury — if that someone was already in a furious place.

However, it’s worth pointing out the contrast in these perspectives, in part because Bonasera saw a way to harness kids’ love of video game and turn it into something powerful and educational. Scipione, on the other hand, saw a month-long blip in knife crime, didn’t know what could have caused it, and blamed it on gaming — without even knowing the perpetrators’ gaming habits. Whose perspective is more thoughtful and informed? Given that, which one seems more worth heeding?