Thursday, October 22, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Editor's Note: The following is an updated version of one of our most popular posts ever.
In 1955, the U.S. Senate blasted comic books, deploring their depiction of every horrible thing from murder to cannibalism. The lawmakers heard from a prominent psychiatrist who singled out the Superman comic books as especially "injurious to the ethical development of children" because they "arouse phantasies [sic] of sadistic joy" in our youth. Another witness testified that children had been jumping off high places in attempts to fly like their hero. Shame on that Superman. He ruined the lives of so many children!
Half a century later, violent video games are the comic books of our day. Testimony before our state Senate included descriptions of horrific-sounding games. One witness described a game where the player scans in faces of classmates and teachers and then shoots them. He also referenced another game called Postal that gives points for watching innocent people beg for mercy before you kill them. The only problem is that we've never met one kid - or any person of any age, for that matter - who has even heard of these games. They are straw man arguments.
One frequently cited research article criticizing violent video games includes several studies. One of these studies was a "correlational study" from which the authors concluded, "Playing violent video games often may well cause increases in delinquent behaviors, both aggressive and non-aggressive." However, in a remarkable moment of self-contradiction, they later said that making such causative statements with a correlational study is "risky, at best." Why is it risky? Because correlations are just relationships between two variables; you can never say one causes the other. We could say that during the season when ice cream sales increase, shark attacks also increase. But we could not say the more ice cream you sell, the more you cause shark attacks.
Why would a couple of child psychologists come to the defense of violent video games? Because some legislative initiatives and public opinions across the country are based on fallacious assumptions, personal biases, political posturing and weak science. One recent systematic analysis of the research literature found "insufficient, contradictory and methodologically flawed evidence on the association between television viewing and video game playing and aggression in children and young people with behavioral and emotional difficulties. If public health advice is to be evidence-based, good quality research is needed," (Mitrofan, Paul, Spencer, 2009). Another extensive study found "no support for the hypothesis that violent video game playing is associated with higher aggression," (Ferguson, 2007). In fact, that same study found some positive benefits of playing violent video games, particularly improvements in visual-spatial thinking.While there are studies that find people who play violent video games may have a brief increase in violent thoughts and feelings, newer research finds that these thoughts and feelings typically last less than four minutes (Barlett, Branch, Rodeheffer, & Harris, 2009). And remember, having a violent thought is a whole lot different than actually committing violence.
Common sense tells you that you don't let an elementary school kid or an older child with a history of aggressive behavior play Grand Theft Auto. But that same common sense tells you that if 90 percent of households have owned or rented a video game every year - while the juvenile crime rate has been going down for more than a decade - then a little Halo 3 ODST never hurt anybody...
Frank Gaskill is a child psychologist with Southeast Psych who specializes in technology issues and Asperger's Disorder. He has pioneered the E-Parent curriculum to help parents better understand the tech world of their teenagers. He is also co-author of the forthcoming Max Gamer graphic novel.
Dave Verhaagen is a child and adolescent psychologist with Southeast Psych who works mostly with older adolescents and young adults. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Parenting the Millennial Generation and the forthcoming Therapy with Young Men.
Both have Ph.D.'s in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill (Go Tar Heels!).
Barlett, C., Branch, O., Rodeheffer, C., & Harris, R. (2009). How long do the short-term violent video game effects last? Aggressive Behavior. Vol 35(3), May-Jun 2009, 225-236.
Mitrofan, O., Paul, M., & Spencer, N. (2009). Is aggression in children with behavioural and emotional difficulties associated with television viewing and video game playing? A systematic review. Child: Care, Health and Development. Vol 35(1), Jan 2009, 5-15.
Ferguson, C. J. (2007). The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of positive and negative effects of violent video games. Psychiatric Quarterly. Vol 78(4), Dec 2007, 309-316.
Monday, October 5, 2009
It is estimated that in the United States approximately five million children experience some form of trauma each year. Car accidents, natural disasters, abuse, sudden deaths of loved ones, and exposure to community violence are examples of events that can impact children. Trauma does not just happen to one person; it touches family members, friends, and others involved in children’s lives. When something traumatic has happened to your child, there are things you can do to help facilitate recovery.
Guidelines for helping a child who has experienced a trauma:
Do not be afraid to talk about the traumatic event. When a child brings up the topic of what happened, don’t avoid it. Listen, provide support and nurturance, and answer questions honestly and to the best of your ability. It’s okay to say that you don’t know something (such as why the tornado hit your house, where people go when they die, etc.). Follow the child’s lead in discussing the event; stick to answering his or her specific questions and don’t address the topic unless your child is the one to initiate it. Be aware of your own reaction to the trauma and do not over react or appear out of control with your own emotions in front of your child. Verbalizing your own feelings of sadness, hurt, and anger is appropriate.
Create predictability and safety in your child’s daily routines. Imposing structure and patterns increases a child’s sense of safety and control throughout the day. Keep consistent times for regular activities such as meals, homework, play, and bedtime. If there are changes in the routine, give explanations for them. Keep promises you make to your child during a crisis time so he or she knows he can count on you.
Notify other adults in the child’s life about what has happened. It will be important that adults who interact with children on a regular basis (e.g., teachers, coaches, other parents, etc.) are aware of what your child has experienced. This helps others have more awareness and sensitivity and may allow greater tolerance of trauma-related behaviors that might otherwise wear on one’s patience.
Discuss your expectations for behavior. Make sure your child knows the rules at home and the consequences for breaking them. Be consistent in your discipline and focus on reinforcing positive behaviors. While it is good to be flexible at times, make sure you provide a clear rationale for any changes you make to consequences. It may be tempting to refrain from enforcing rules when your child has been through something traumatic, however, following through on consequences provides predictability, consistency, and the sense that you as the parent are in control; all three provide emotional comfort and safety.
Keep your child safe. Physical safety is one piece of this and emotional safety is another. Try to limit exposure to activities, events, and other reminders of the trauma, especially if you see your child’s symptoms increase during such activities. It’s okay to stop an activity if you see it is upsetting or retraumatizing your child.
Recognize the impact that the trauma has had on you. Sometimes parents experience the same traumatic event as their children, and in other cases parents feel the vicarious effects of trauma that has happened to their child. Feelings of helplessness, guilt, and sadness are common reactions of parents of traumatized children. Seek help from friends, family member, and/or professionals to cope with the painful emotions you have. Do not expect your child to take care of you as you deal with your own emotions. For example, do not keep your child home with you to assuage your own fear of separation from him or her. It is important to take care of yourself in order to be able to best help your child.
Know when to ask for help. Following a trauma, it is normal for children to show signs of distress. You may notice signs of disorganization, such as poor concentration and confusion. Some children begin to display behaviors that are characteristic of younger children, such as clinginess, loss of toileting, and general fearfulness. A child may reenact an event or themes relating to the event through play and artwork. Physical complaints are also common. Symptoms will usually become less severe after a few weeks, however, if the severity persists, consider consulting a mental health professional.
Dr. Jessica Bloomfield is a psychologist at Southeast Psych who specializes in treating trauma, as well as depression, anxiety, and a range of other issues.