Thursday, November 22, 2012

Video Games and Children (part 1)

There is a ton of research out on the effects of video games and children.  Frankly, reading this sort of research bores me to death.  I wish they had a video game app that explained the effects.  One author caught my attention.  Agne Suziedelyte has written a working paper entitled "Can Video Games Affect Children's Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills."*   I had hoped I could breeze through it and give a quick summary here.  That is not so likely! She has managed to complicate the thing in a rather serious effort.

 In fact, I have been reading this article and then rereading it. There are a couple of reasons this merits attention.  The first reason relates to the broad claim that "There is no evidence that video game playing increases aggressiveness in children." (pg. 3) In general such broad statements should be taken with a grain of salt.  This is research speak and can be unintentionally misleading.  This sort of statement usually means that the research that has been done is correlational. Correlational means there is a connection but it hasn't proven which causes the other. It's kind of a chicken and egg which came first sort of thing. A statement like this one, can make it sound that there is no relationship between violence and video games. That seems unlikely.   Bushman, B. and Anderson C. wrote in 2002 (*2) that "players who had prior experience playing violent video games responded with an increased level of aggression when they encountered confrontation."

The question is, why would anyone make a broad claim that "there is no evidence of video games increasing violence?"  Well, it just means that researchers need to do a lot more work to really understand the impact video games do have.  That is a warning to us all.  These video games are common and there is a lot of peer pressure out there to buy the lastest offering from Playcenter Five, or to buy the new best Murderer's Creed edition. ( Please excuse the made up names!) That doesn't mean that the games are safe. There is also no evidence that sticking your hand in a toaster causes redness.  We do know that burning yourself causes redness.  I just don't believe that anyone has actually selected a sample of children and a control group to study sticking hands into toasters.  That would be cruel.

The second reason for looking closely at this paper is because this paper comes out of the School of Economics and not the Psychology Department.  I don't know what prompted this Doctoral Student in economics to study video game violence.  The more I dig in to this article, the more I respect the rigor of her methods. It does make sense for this to be an economics study.  You can bet that video games are big business. Forbes magazine(*3) quotes DFC Intelligence (a research firm) as estimating that the "worldwide video game industry will reach 70.1 billion dollars by 2015." Do you think that big business might like to have some research saying there is no proven causality between video games and violence  or that there are positive impacts of video games?

 I'm not suggesting any sort of evil conspiracy.  I am just saying that 70.1 billion dollars is a lot of money.  It wouldn't be surprising if someone who makes their income slicing their piece of the (video game) pie might want to protect that income from research  that would hinder sales. Research that suggested that video games cause children to be more violent could be problematic.

The bottom line is this.  Before you fork out 40$ a game  for Christmas gifts for your kids, take time to ask yourself if you will really monitor their use and play?  Will you really set and follow through with limits? If you will, okay maybe this gift is right for you and your family.  If you won't, I would recommend Santa and his elves should find something else to put under the Christmas tree.

 *Suziedelyte, Agnes. Australian School of Business Research Paper No. 2012 ECON37,  reprinted from the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection:

 *2 Bushman, B. and Anderson C.(2002). Violent Video Games and Hostile Expectations: A Test of the General Aggression Model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1679-1686

*3 Rishe, Patrick. Trends-in-the-Multi-Billion Dollar Video Game Industry: QA With Gaming Champ Fatality, Forbes, 12/23/2011.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Help Needed:Video Game update Pre-Christmas Shopping

I heard a parent recently tell me that video games were bad for kids.  At least that is what they were told by a therapist.  That comment is too general for my taste.  In my experience, it has more to do with the supervision of the type of video game, the amount of time playing video games, and whether the child has other outside activities and behaviors.  Common sense tends to prevail on these sorts of things.  

1) Here is a suggestion no one bothers to heed:  Don't put the video games in bedrooms. Get them out where you can see what they are playing and doing. 

2) Do use learning and problem solving software. Unfortunately my repertoire of these is sadly out of date. 
Please help me update this by posting a comment below.  Here are my favorites from days of yore. 

a) Freddie Fish
b) Kid's Chess
c) Pajama Sam
d) Sponge Bob typing.
e) Mavis Bacon typing.
f) Rosetta Stone Language Software
g) Nancy Drew 
h) Google Sketch-up

3) Please limit time on computers and video games. 
4) Please closely monitor any online gaming activity.

I will be doing some research and trying to summarize it in human terms. 

Please, please help me update current learning and problem solving software.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ewoks, Halloween Candy and Post Halloween Fears

My folks didn't let us watch much in the way of scary movies around Halloween   It always seemed like bedtime came really early in October. I wonder if my folks didn't move the clocks ahead of Daylight Savings time, just so we wouldn't see all the scary movies we were missing..  We got to go trick or treating.  We got to carve pumpkins and have Halloween parties.  Unfortunately, without the scary stuff Halloween became an exercise in gross food.  The scariest thing that happened most Halloweens was hearing horror stories about hooks in somebody 's Halloween cookie or caramel apple.

Developmentally, children work through and develop anger around 2-3 and fears around 4-5.  Though I beg you to forgive the gross oversimplification here. Please be attuned to your kids sleep habits following Halloween   Parents usually say their kids don't have nightmares.  Their kid's will then draw me pictures in elaborate detail describing their nightmares to me. The parents are often stunned.

We work with fear through play and repetition. Halloween is a kind of play where we have the opportunity to face our fears. Most kids have a lot of fun dressing up in costumes.  A little bit of role playing adventure is  also good to overcome fears. Sometimes it is spontaneous. When I was doing observations at HeadStart, the kids would express their fears on the playground.  Sometimes a child or a group of children would suddenly start yelling and chasing me.  Sometimes, I would be arrested by a mob of 20-30 three foot tall policeman.  Some days, I would be captured by 20-30  three foot tall monsters. It was a lot like the scene with the Ewoks from "The Return of the Jedi."  It was a lot of work making sure I didn't fall on one of the cute little fur balls. 

The Grimm's fairy tales were also a good way to work through fears.  I don't remember where, but I read one time that modern day, politically correct, disney-esque versions of  these tales actually caused more nightmares.  If I remember correctly, the original tales (which resulted in the death of the villain and were therefore considered more violent), actually were more resolved in children's minds and caused less anxiety. The more politically correct version where the villain saw the error of their ways were next best  and caused some anxiety among children who feared that the villains changed and would change back.  Children are very concrete and don't trust this type of change. The most anxiety provoking were the stories that the villain was run off and never seen again.  Apparently, never seen again is less reassuring than dead. So if you like to tell scary makeup stories with your kids.  Kill the bad guy.  They will sleep better.  Please don't let young children watch Freddie, Jason, Jack or Snakes on Planes.

Oh and one more thing.  If you kids are having trouble after Halloween give me a call 641-753-0440.  Dealing with fears is one of the things I do best.  I think it may come from having older siblings.  Older siblings are never quite as cautious as their parents, about the stories they tell their younger siblings.