Tag Archives: video games

Parenting in the Age of First Person Shooter Video Games

The hottest rage in my thirteen year old’s class last year was a first person shooter internet video game called Soldier Front. T’ween boys love these type of internet games because they can play with friends on-line; no need for playdates, the kids all meet in the virtual world and don guns together.

The goal of this game is to gun down soldiers in what easily passes for an abandoned building in Iraq. Points are given for missions accomplished and head shots (not photos of aspiring actors – bullets to the head which then explodes).
I hated this game and wanted it out of my house. With the newest software, I could block this site. But I don’t have the newest software on all my computers, I am not exactly sure how to use the parental controls properly, my eight year old could probably find his way around any filter, and – most significantly — there are many, many more games ready to fill in if this particular game is blocked. Soldier Front and others like it are not rated, so evaluating them without playing each and every one of them is impossible.
I weighed my options. I could get rid of the internet in the house (which would make it hard for me to work); I could create a filter that blocks out any content dealing with guns (including an important recent Supreme Court decision on the 2nd Amendment); I could move us to a remote part of Alaska and live off the land. None were good options. Attacking the media platform – in this case the computer and internet — rather than the content itself seemed misguided.
In 1964 Marshall McLuhan concluded that the content of electronic media, its “message,” is simply beside the point—that in electronic media, unlike print media, “the medium is the message.” In a recent volume of The Future of Children that I edited with Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Children and Electronic Media, we came to a rather different conclusion. Content, it turns out, is critical to how media influence children. That is, the message is the message. Rather than focusing on the type of technology children use or even how much time children spend with media, parents, educators, and policymakers need to focus on what is being offered to children on the various media platforms.
This turns out to be difficult. At the government level, First Amendment considerations and the increasing reality that many media forms are exempt from government oversight makes broad regulation of content close to impossible. At the community and school level, educators struggle to use media in positive ways while ensuring that technology is not used to cheat or bully. At the family level, it is often easier for parents to tell their children, “one hour of media, that’s it,” than to wade through the content of the myriad media offerings, rely on inconsistent and hard-to-understand rating systems, and compete with an industry that often cares more about commercial success than children’s quality of life. Moreover, with the increasing portability of technology, the reality is that kids are often using electronic media where no adult is present, let alone their parents.
The answer is not more gadgets – filters, V-Chips, parental controls. Rather, industry needs to step up to the plate and do a better job in offering positive media content. In our recent policy brief we examined ways that non-profits and government are using media to positively influence adolescent well-being. These are not the public service announcements of the 1970’s and 80’s (“this is your brain on drugs”) that preached and missed the point. Rather, these are exciting, interactive, “Web 2.0” media campaigns that invite youth to create the content and own the message. Certainly for-profit industry can follow suit. While I am fairly confident that the government cannot ban first-person shooter games, I am sure that industry can decide it is not worth their time to post such games. Advertisers can push this by paying for ads on positive websites. Finally, parents, government and advocates can band together to put pressure on industry to clean up its act.
As for Soldier Front, I resorted to old fashioned parenting and simply banned the game with serious consequences if that rule was broken. It worked this time — no batteries (or broadband) required – but it may not the next when my son is older and I am not standing over his shoulder watching everything he does. Here’s hoping industry has listened by then.

Children and Electronic Media — Myth Busters

There are a lot of myths about how children use electronic media, highlighted in our recent volume, Children and Electronic Media. A longer version of this “Myth Busters” piece and other related highlights are posted on our website.

MYTH: Television is being displaced by newer forms of media.
REALITY: Despite all the new technologies, children still spend a lot of time in front of the television. Rather than newer technologies replacing television, children simply add these other media on to the time they spend watching TV.
MYTH: Children from highly educated families use electronic media the least, while children in less educated families use it the most.
REALITY: Youth whose parents had completed college reported the most media exposure, while those whose parents had completed no more than high school reported less but were not far behind. The group with the least media exposure was children whose parents had some college education.
MYTH: Marketing to children can never have positive outcomes.
REALITY: While advertising is often used to steer children and youth toward unhealthy behaviors, marketing can also be used effectively to promote positive healthy choices such as not smoking or using illicit drugs, reducing obesity, and delaying sexual activity – some of which are highlighted our policy brief, “Using Media to Promote Adolescent Wellbeing,” and in an article by Doug Evans on social marketing campaigns.
MYTH: Video games have no educational value.
REALITY: Violent video games can promote aggressive (though not necessarily criminal) behavior, but many other types of video games promote positive outcomes. Studies have found, for instance, that playing select video games can enhance visual awareness, including greater capacity to pay attention, quicker attention deployment, and faster processing.
MYTH: Adolescents use online communication primarily to communicate with strangers.
REALITY: Teens mostly use the Internet to communicate with friends and maintain already existing relationships. However, even teens who only seek to communicate with friends may do so in inappropriate ways that leave them vulnerable to harassment. Moreover, some contact with strangers – seeking out health information, for example — is not necessarily negative.
MYTH: Television is appropriate for all ages, so long as it is educational.
REALITY: Watching television is unlikely to be beneficial for infants and toddlers and could actually be harmful. Research shows that viewing educational television can have positive effects for preschoolers and older children, but there is no research supporting the same outcomes for children ages two and under.
MYTH: Ratings systems are reliable ways to know the content and appropriateness of a movie, television, or video game program.
REALITY: Ratings are rarely well understood by the general public. They are inconsistent from media to media, parents are often not fully aware of the information and criteria used in each rating system, and sometimes parents are even unaware that the ratings exist. Even among parents who report using industry-provided ratings and advisories, most do not find them to be “very useful.”
MYTH: Electronic media are keeping kids from reading.
REALITY: It does not seem that time with media greatly displaces reading or doing homework, largely because American youth spend so little time doing either.
For more information, see Children and Electronic Media, eds. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Elisabeth Donahue, Spring 2008 and our 10-paper series of short "Highlights" for articles on all the topics presented above.