I’m just finishing up my most recent trip into the research regarding video games and am very impressed. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, both doctors of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, have written a very balanced and open-minded book titled Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Video Games and What Parents Can Do. The two, who are also directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and the Media, spent three years and $1.5 million in grant funds finishing their fieldwork and compiling their data.
Kutner and Olson look at much of the current (and not so current) research concerning video games, with a specific goal of examining the assumed link between video games and violent gamers. What they discover is that much of the research is flawed or applied incorrectly.
Today, an amalgam of politicians, health professionals, religious leaders and children’s advocates are voicing concerns about video games that are identical to the concerns raised one, two and three generations ago with the introduction of other new media. Most of these people have the best of intentions. They really want to protect children from evil influences. As in the past, a few have different agendas and are using the issue manipulatively. Unfortunately, many of their claims are based on scanty evidence, inaccurate assumptions, and pseudoscience. Much of the current research on violent video games is both simplistic and agenda driven. (p. 55)
They spend part of their time describing their own research and what it might mean specifically for parents, politicians and educators. I enjoyed the final chapter – Practical Advice for Parents, especially the final paragraph.
For most kids and most parents, the bottom-line results of our research can be summed up in a single word: relax. While concerns about the effects of violent video games are understandable, they’re basically no different from the unfounded concerns previous generations had about the new media of their day. Remember, we’re a remarkably resilient species. (p. 229)
I especially like a quote made by the authors in a related article regarding parent and teachers video gaming addiction:
If a child plays basketball or plays the piano for 4 hours a day, we may describe him as a dedicated athlete or musician. But if that child takes the same approach to playing video games, spending hours each day at the computer, and reveling in the details and strategies of play, we may worry about an addiction.
This is a must read for parents, teachers, school administrators and, especially, district technology admin people who seem to have a habit of blocking the use simulations and games in classrooms. Games are valuable tools that teachers should be using as part of their instructional tool kit and Grand Theft Childhood is the definitive piece of data that supports their use.