As the proverb goes, video games don’t kill people: people kill people. We certainly should not put the full weight of the blame for tragedies on entertainment and media industries, as sure as we shouldn’t put the full blame on the gun industry. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be evaluating the role that violent video games play in tragic events.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Children need time to develop their bodies and minds through play. A game of basketball or tossing the frisbee around the back yard gives a child the opportunity to improve many areas of his development. They get cognitive stimulation through strategy and adaptation; physical stimulation, muscle control, hand-eye coordination and more through physical exertion, and emotional stimulation through socialization; they learn visual and social cues about proper behavior. They learn what bad behavior looks like. It’s a great place to learn about life’s reversals. The strongest, most talented, most intelligent team doesn’t always win.
Watching any kind of immoral content desensitizes us to the horror of that content. Watching people behave in ways that dehumanizes others sets the table for both desensitization and imitation.
Large amounts of time spent indoors is likely to exacerbate symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other developmental disorders in children.
Our children are growing up in a world where conversations happen through text messages or other social media, robbing them of the exercise and bonding that comes from conversation. These skills ultimately helps them become a part of community.
Over-consumption of videogames and media can impersonalize and isolate us from being successful in a social context. We bond in people’s physical presence in ways that are impossible to simulate electronically.
Aggressive people are drawn to aggressive content. They will be more likely to consume this kind of entertainment. There are situations where we need to desensitize ourselves to violence, as is the case with soldiers. As you’re preparing to do combat, soldiers are put through basic training that is designed to breakdown their fear of gun use and violence. Frankly, we need soldiers to be desensitized to violence. They must be able to act effectively in a way that protects us.
Video games go way past watching violence. You are an active participant in this violence.
“To provide some perspective on the degree of violence that is influenced by video games, research suggests that the effects are more powerful than that of watching violent television and film (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). Moreover, the effect size – the strength of the relationship between video game violence and aggression – is approximately .26 (Anderson, 2004). What does this mean? It means that the relationship between gaming and aggression is stronger than the relationship between condom use and decreased HIV risk, and between second-hand smoke and lung cancer, even the effect of calcium intake on bone mass density!” (Psychology Today, Videogame Violence: Part 1)
Desensitization to violence as a result of playing violent video games is a fact established in research. There are other situations where desensitization is good. In therapy we often use techniques to desensitize people to acts of violence that have been inflicted upon them. This can be a very healthy thing.
The question that remains is do we want adolescent boys, whose minds are still structuring the way they will view the world for the rest of their lives, to become compassionless as it pertains to violence and sexuality?
Clearly we do not want them to be desensitized to violence against women. We do not want them to feel like it’s okay, normal, or passé to inflict violence upon their girlfriends or wives. When media highlights crimes of evil men inflicting pain on innocent women, it leaves both women and men more vulnerable.
Decisions have long-term consequences. We know “You are what you eat” and even more so, “You are what you think?” Decisions about what types of media we consume have long-term consequences . Choose wisely, especially for your children.
1. Make time to talk. Talking is often easier while you’re doing a household chore together or taking a walk, or engaging your child in other ways.
2. Answer questions in an age appropriate way. Spare young children the detail. But, answer every question they have.
3. Use this as a time to reinforce safety concerns and practices in your family. For example: what would you do if you saw somebody with a gun? Help your children to have a plan in mind.
4. Get into their world. Find out what they understand about information they’ve been exposed to. How are they feeling as an individual? Some children may be deeply troubled by this sort of information, while it may have a limited impact on others.
5. Be prepared to seek extra help if you need to. Call a school counselor, a minister, or a mental health professional.
6. Reassure children that this is something that happens, but doesn’t happen all the time. Reaffirm the confidence and safety that they feel with their teachers, bus drivers, and staff at their school. Assure them that those trusted people have their best interests at heart and would act to protect them.
7. Take this opportunity to evaluate your consumption of violent tv shows, movies, and video games as a family.
8. After you’ve discussed the facts, answered questions, and checked on the emotions of your child, move on. Distract them in age-appropriate ways to get their minds off of this content.
9. Guard the temptation to watch endless coverage of these events in front of children.
10. Pray for Newtown, Connecticut, as a family. The people there will be traumatized by this for years to come.
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