Posts tagged ‘Children’

Grand Theft Childhood Author Weighs in on GTA IV

Back in March, we did a three-part segment on violent video games. At the time, we did a Q & A with one of the authors of the ground-breaking study, Grand Theft Childhood. Harvard Professor Cheryl Olson contradicted many of the general tenets regarding violent video games, especially the idea that such games are the bane of civilized society.

Two months later, at the time that Grand Theft Auto IV is setting new records for sales, we offer a follow-up with the co-author of Grand Theft Childhood, fellow Harvard professor Lawrence Kutner. Dr. KutnerDr. Kutner has written extensively on parenting topics and is the author of five previous books about child psychology and parent-child communication.

We asked Dr. Kutner about the reception Grand Theft Childhood has received both with the general public and within the academic community. We also asked him about some of the criticisms of the study as well as those areas of research that deserve greater study in the future. Finally, we threw some questions his way about GTA IV, in particular his thoughts about MADD’s response to one aspect of the game and the many pundits railing against the game.

As with our first post with Dr. Olson, we are sure you will be intrigued by what the professor has to say.

Can you give us an overview of the general reaction you have received to the release of your study? My understanding is that you have been doing a number of radio talk shows and discussing your work with a whole host of media outlets. Could you review with our readers some of the folks with whom you have been discussing your work and what has been the general response of those media outlets?

There has been a tremendous amount of interest and support from both sides of the political spectrum, ranging from Barry Lynn, a liberal radio talk show host (Culture Shocks), to Adam Thierer of the conservative think tank The Progress and Freedom Foundation. For the most part, people appreciate the nature and approach of our research and our attempts to put our and others’ findings into perspective.

We’ve spent a lot of time on both commercial and public talk radio, including stations in Canada and Ireland as well as throughout the US. National Public Radio’s “On the Media” did a long piece on our findings. So did the CBC. Gil Gross of KGO Radio in San Francisco, the #1 news-talk station in the US, did an hour on the book. We will have that on our website soon. Even the nationally syndicated morning shock jock Mancow did an interview segment.

In print, we’ve been on page 1 of USA Today and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and on page 1 of a section of the Washington Post. Reuters just did a feature story on us along with a highly laudatory review. Publications outside the US such as The Globe and Mail and The Age and specialty publications like PC World have also given us coverage in print and/or electronic versions.
The most widely distributed television appearance was on the program “X-Play” on theG4 network, which focuses on video games. It was picked up by literally thousands of blogs for and by gamers. Cheryl was interviewed on CNN by Glenn Beck, who cut her off several times, apparently because her data contradicted his opinions.

GrandTheftChildhood.com“There have been other times when our findings and analyses have been cherry-picked by people wanting to force-fit our data to support their own biases. For example, the evening GTA-IV was released, Cheryl was interviewed by two Boston-area television stations. One set up her sound bites by saying that “some researchers say that there’s nothing to worry about.” The other said, “Some researchers are very worried.” Neither statement is an accurate reflection of our research.

One thing we did not think to ask you earlier was about the reaction of the Harvard community or that of others in academia? What has been the reaction of those folks to your study and the subsequent release of the book?

People in academia—even those whose research we criticize—have generally been supportive. They may disagree, but they see the value in what we’ve done. Only rarely have they engaged in ad hominem attacks.

Would you categorize your book as an academic text or as some other classification? And how has it been doing thus far as compared to initial expectations?

This is clearly a popular book, not an academic text—although some professors have told us that they want to assign it in their classes. It’s aimed at the intelligent reader who wants to understand more about kids and video games.

It’s been striking how many people who are neither gamers nor parents have expressed interest in our work.

Grand Theft Childhood
We see where at least one person has taken strong exception to your findings, referring to the work as “industrial strength whitewash.” Could you comment a bit on that critique? Have there been any other such negative reviews of your study?

Any good book draws critics. That quote was from a review written for Library Journal by a 73-year-old private practice psychiatrist whose expertise is on the influence of Otto Rank on psychoanalysis. While he’s entitled to his opinion, of course, it’s unclear why he was selected to critique the book. By the way, a few days after this review was published, Larry was approached by the American Library Association about giving a keynote address at its upcoming national conference on the use of games in libraries. That gives you an idea of how influential that review was with librarians.

We’re sure that others will find fault with our book, and hope that their criticisms sharpen our thinking and add to the quality of future studies.

Based on the release and the questions you are receiving, are there some aspects of your study that perhaps you wished you had spent more time on or specific questions you wished you had researched but did not? Will any of this lead to follow up studies in the future?

There are several areas that we wish we had explored but could not due to financial and time constraints. We did not anticipate when we started that M-rated games would be as popular with girls as they actually were. This deserves more research. We would like to study a sample of teenagers who have gotten into trouble with the law because of violent behavior, to see how their patterns of video game play may differ. Also, it would be useful to do some different types of studies that involve watching how kids actually play the games (and perhaps to measure their physiological responses) in a typical (non-lab) environment.
Whether we, or someone else, do these studies will depend upon funding.

GameSpot.com

The recent release of Grand Theft Auto IV has been met with some scathing rebukes. One has come from MADD regarding a section of the game where a car is driven by an intoxicated driver. Would you be willing to provide your thoughts on this based on your prior research? Is this much ado about nothing or have the makers of GTA gone one step too far?

We haven’t played GTA IV yet, so our awareness of this scene comes solely from articles like that. It would be interesting to see if teenage players interpret the scene the same way that MADD apparently does. Our understanding is that the experience of being unable to control the virtual car in the game is aversive, and may actually deter drunk driving. It’s worth investigating.

We will probably end up buying an Xbox 360 or PS3 so we can play GTA IV ourselves and make more informed comments.

Susan Estrich, a syndicated columnist also rails strongly against GTA IV in a recent column. Having done your research, what thoughts go through your mind when you read such an editorial? Is this still the most common reaction people have to these games?

This is strikingly similar to the concerns over and editorials against comic books, radio, gangster films and—back in the late 19th century—the evil influence of paperback novels on teenage girls. None of those bore out. Each time, the pundits and politicians said that earlier concerns may have been silly, but that this time it’s different. So far it hasn’t been.

She says, “It’s not my son I’m really worried about…. It’s his generation, the generation that he is going to grow up in and live with, full of kids who take this stuff for granted and spend more time with it than with real life, that worries me.” We heard that—my kid’s fine, it’s the other kids who are at risk—time and again from parents in focus groups. Many of them had “heard stories” about kids who got into trouble or even died because of video games, but none of them actually knew anyone who did so. It seems to be another set of urban legends.

I Stock PhotoShe also engages in hyperbole in her attacks, stating that kids “spend more time with than with real life.” Think about that for a second. It’s a dramatic statement, but is it true? Our study found that only 13 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls spent 15 or more hours per week playing video games. Assuming 8 hours/night for sleep, a child would have to spend more than 56 hours per week playing video games to meet her criterion. We’ve only seen that among an extremely small group of gamers not in our study whose serious emotional problems were manifest in other ways—it’s certainly not the norm!

Similarly, we’ve heard statements describing the GTA series as including opportunities for gamers to rape women as part of the game. We’ve been unable to find any instances of this, although there are opportunities for characters to have sex with prostitutes. Yet such hyperbolic statements are rarely challenged in and by the media, perhaps because they’re so effective at grabbing attention.

Most of the parents we spoke with who had actually seen a GTA game recognized that it was satire. Their concerns were not this type of knee-jerk reaction, but were more nuanced, such as whether their children would understand the essence of that satire and the cultural allusions.

Editor: Many thanks to both Dr. Kutner and Dr. Olson for their time – for those wishing to hear more about this groundbreaking study, the many links after the first question will provide readers a wealth of additional information.

Author: Tom Hanson, OpenEducation Blog, 16th May 2008

Original article available here.

Publication authorised by OpenEducation.net

May 23, 2008 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Teachers on learning curve

TECHNOLOGY is changing the way we learn. That is a given as school students — the ubiquitous digital natives — come to class equipped with skills and expectations unparalleled in schools 20 years ago.

To Dale Spender, an educationalist and an expert on the impact of digital technologies on learning, the shift is fundamental: “There has been a switch from passive to active learners,” she says, “and active learners need a different range of support staff.”

Author: Kirsten Lees, The Australian, 5th April 2008

Full article available here.

April 12, 2008 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

Intel unveils new Classmate PCs

New low-cost laptops, now targeted to U.S. schools as well, have larger screens and more storage

Intel’s new Classmate PCs–slated to go on sale this month for between $300 and $500–reflect the company’s growing efforts to sell computers equipped with its own chips to schools in developing countries, a battleground for technology companies because of the millions of people there just coming online.

But the target market for these low-cost laptops has expanded to include kids in the United States, too, as potential users of cheaper, stripped-down machines.

Author: eSchool News staff and wire service reports, 3rd April 2008

Full article available here.

April 10, 2008 at 4:59 pm Leave a comment

Virtual Chore Rewards for Kids

To be fair to Barbie Girls it isn’t the only virtual world for kids that worries me – with its not-so-implicit goal of training children to be good little consumers. Reinforcing the concept in children that rewards come from playing games, watching shows (themselves somewhat promotional, I’d guess) and from buying products does not seem a good one, and I was despairing of seeing a model other than this. So while I’ve yet to delve deeper, Handipoints appears to be the first imaginative alternative.

Author: Daniel Livingstone, Learning Games Blog, 7th April 2008

Full article available here.

April 8, 2008 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

The Byron Review; Video Gaming Recommendations for Children

As we noted in our prior post, Dr. Tanya Byron, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, recently released an important set of E-safety recommendations, “Safer Children in a Digital World,” for children in the UK. Today we turn to her summary recommendations regarding video gaming.
Byron Review
Here again, the most compelling aspect of her research as well as her recommendations is the fact that she refrains from oversimplifying the matter. When it comes to the issue of video games, Byron calls upon the video game industry and parents to work collaboratively to ensure that children are provided access to games that are age-appropriate.Risk-Reward Nature of Technology
As was her methodology with Internet safety, Byron seeks a collaborative approach to children and the video game industry. In addition, she seeks to have assistance from the gaming industry to help restrict the access of games that are inappropriate for children. At the same time, she also calls on parents to do their part in the process.

In speaking about empowering children and keeping them safe, Byron turns to the following analogy. Noting that “children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks,” Byron offers, “at a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.”

Byron notes that technology offers extraordinary opportunities for children and young people as well as adults. As for video games, the researcher indicates that such games offer “a range of exciting interactive experiences for children.” At the same time, Byron specifies that some video games are in fact designed for adults.

Byron recognizes that the debate on ‘media effects’ and violent content in video games is divided. She also confirms the obvious, that Internet and gaming technology is moving so rapidly that it is not possible for research to keep up with the developments.


Amazon.com
What is noteworthy about Byron’s work is she does head directly to the gray areas, the risks of potentially harmful or inappropriate content, that could have negative impacts on children. As we noted in our post about Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson and their research for Grand Theft Childhood, Byron is not ready to take a cause and effect position regarding video game play and antisocial behaviors in children. Byron states, “Overall, I have found that a search for direct cause and effect in this area is often too simplistic.”

At the same time the researcher does not give a free pass on the topic, stating that it does “not mean that the risks do not exist.” Byron then moves correctly to another key element, that we must use our understanding of child development to “inform an approach that is based on the ‘probability of risk’ in different circumstances.”

What is so remarkable about Byron’s review is that she recognizes the sheer complexity of this issue. “We need to take into account children’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities, because the factors that can discriminate a ‘beneficial’ from a ‘harmful’ experience online and in video games will often be individual factors in the child. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child.”

In addition, Byron notes, “Very few people are genuinely addicted to video games but lots of time spent playing can result in missed opportunities for other forms of development and socialization.” In other words, concerns must develop when these gaming technologies negatively impact children at the expense of other activities and family interaction.

Byron does list some of the prevailing concerns regarding video game play. She notes, “There is some evidence of short term aggression from playing violent video games but no studies of whether this leads to long term effects.” She also states, “There is a correlation between playing violent games and aggressive behavior, but this is not evidence that one causes the other.”

Byron ReviewHer entire approach centers upon age appropriate gaming and reveals yet another critical element. “Games are more likely to affect perceptions and expectations of the real world amongst younger children because of their less developed ability to distinguish between fact and fiction (due to the immaturity of the frontal cortex).”

As for the interactive nature of games, Byron states the interactive nature may “also have a more profound effect than some other media, again especially amongst younger children (e.g. up to around 12 years old) who tend to use narratives to develop their values and ideas and who learn through ‘doing’.”

At the same time, Byron is not ready to castigate video games or refer to them as the source of all that is not well during adolescence. States Bryon, “These games offer new opportunities for social interaction between children and there are a number of potential benefits for children and young people from playing video games, including cognitive and educational gains and simply having fun. Interestingly the evidence to prove these benefits can be as contested as the evidence of negative effects.”

Ensuring Age Appropriate Gaming Opportunities
Byron calls for targeted efforts from the gaming industry to increase parental understanding of age-ratings and the available controls on gaming consoles. Byron recommends a new, hybrid classification system for games. She seeks to have the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Pan European Game Information, under the auspices of the UK Council for Child Internet safety, “work together to develop a joint approach to rating online games and driving up safety standards for children and young people.” She proposes that the new combined BBFC and PEGI logo be prominently placed on the front of all games (R18, 18,15,12,PG and U) with industry equivalent logos across all age ranges placed on the back of all boxes (ratings regarding violence, language, sexual activity, drugs activity, etc.).

Byron also seeks to have greater efforts to enforce age ratings at points of sale to ensure that children have access only to age appropriate materials. Byron suggests that games with ‘12′ ratings and up carry legal requirements that such games cannot be sold to someone under the required age. At the same time, Byron calls on both the video game and advertising industries to comply with age-appropriate message targeting that matches the video game age classifications.

I Stock PhotoIn addition, Byron wants to see “console manufacturers work together to raise standards in parental controls on consoles, delivering clear and easy to use prompts and better information for parents on where console controls meet agreed upon standards.”

Parents Must Also Parent
The researcher notes that even concerned parents sometimes still buy adult games for their children. The rationale? “Either for a ‘peaceful life’ or because it is ‘only a game’.”

Byron notes that parents must be aware of the fact that some games are suitable only for adults. She writes of how many children she came across that had been allowed to play age 18+ video games despite the fact that some children were forbidden from watching films with that rating.

She further notes that parents must be educated about the parental controls available on game consoles. If the gaming industry is expected to produce consoles that provide specific controls regarding time of play, game ratings, et al, then parents must learn to engage the technology and enforce the use of that technology.

Lastly, there is no substitute for parental responsibility especially with respect to decision-making. We noted earlier Byron’s prophetic words, the “need to take into account children’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child.”

Recognizing the differences in children is difficult. But ultimately that recognition will have to be the responsibility of parents, not the gaming industry.

Author: Tom Hanson, OpenEducation Blog, 2nd April 2008

Article available here.

April 6, 2008 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

The Byron Review; E-Safety Internet Recommendations for Children

Across the pond, Dr. Tanya Byron, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, recently released an important set of E-safety recommendations for children. Her report, “Safer Children in a Digital World,” was commissioned by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007 in response to growing concerns about the dangers of the Internet.

Ms. Byron’s recommendations appear, dare we say it, “spot on.” She calls on all parties; the tech industry, government agencies (education, legal), and most importantly, parents and families, to work collaboratively on the issue of E-safety.

Byron ReviewPerhaps the most compelling aspect of her research as well as her recommendations is her sophisticated and global approach to the issue. Noting the inherent risk/reward nature of both the Internet and video gaming, Byron properly refrains from oversimplifying the matter.

Today we begin with a review of her research and the recommendations she makes regarding Internet safety. In a follow-up post, we will take a look at her research regarding video games.

Calls Parents To Task
In her report, Byron certainly is not afraid of upsetting parents, calling to attention the fact that many parents simply are not doing due diligence in regards to E-safety. “Many parents seem to believe that when their child is online it is similar to them watching television,” states Byron. “In fact it is more like opening the front door and letting your child go outside to play unsupervised.”

At the same time, the clinical psychologist recognizes the need for children to take risks, that it is an important aspect of their development as young people. One key aspect “of today’s risk-averse culture” notes Byron is that parents are “more inclined to keep children ‘indoors’ despite their developmental needs to socialize and take risks.”

But with a clear understanding of the typical behavior of youngsters the researcher states, “Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. As we increasingly keep our children at home because of fears for their safety outside” our children will tend to “play out their developmental drives to socialize” with the Internet and “take risks in the digital world.”

Byron ReviewAs with the recent Grand Theft Childhood study, Byron notes the complexities parents face with both the Internet and the current gaming culture. “Findings from the evidence show that the potential risks online are closely correlated with potential benefits.” Therefore, Byron strongly suggests a collaborative effort to minimize risks without removing the potential benefits of online access.

What Can Be Done to Increase E-Safety
According to Byron, “Everyone has a role to play in empowering children to stay safe while they enjoy these new technologies, just as it is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe in the non-digital world. This new culture of responsibility spans parents, children and young people supported by Government, industry and the public.”

In regards to the Internet, Byron proposes a three prong approach to improve child safety when online. The three specific areas seek first to reduce the availability of improper materials, second, restrict access to such materials, and third, increase the resilience of children to harmful and inappropriate online material.

The first area could prove more controversial as it in essence creates possible regulations though Byron seeks to have these regulations come in the form of voluntary codes of practice for the industry. In this arena, Byron seeks a reduction in availability of harmful and inappropriate material “in the most popular part of the internet.” Byron recommends that search providers such as Google and Yahoo incorporate a ’safe search’ button that is prominently displayed on the search engine page. In addition, users should have the option of a “lock button” to ensure safe search options. Along with the button, Byron recommends that every search engine offer clear links “to child safety information and safe search settings on the front page of their website.”

In addition to seeking assistance from the search engine giants, Byron recommends that all home computers sold in the UK be equipped with standard parental control software specifically designed with clear prompts and explanations to help engage the parental control options. At the same time, Byron adds that all Internet Service Providers should prominently offer parental control options during the set up of any Internet connection.

From there, Byron turns to the appropriate education of parents and all adults who work with children. The notion is one of education as her recommended focus is on raising the “knowledge, skills and understanding around e-safety of children, parents and other responsible adults.” Essentially, Byron properly notes that parents also have a key role to play in managing a child’s proper Internet usage.

DFES.GOVIn her research, the consultant often found that higher Internet skill levels in children gave these youngsters greater confidence regarding Internet use. Yet, many of those same youngsters did not have either the maturity or have sufficient awareness to ensure they are actually safe online. Byron throws this issue into the lap of parents stating, “Parents either underestimate or do not realize how often children and young people come across potentially harmful and inappropriate material on the internet and are often unsure about what they would do about it.” For Byron, it is time parents became fully aware of the risks, learn what steps they should take to ensure greater E-safety, and then subsequently implement those steps.

Next Byron turns to schools and other child service providers to play a key role in helping children and their parents stay safe online. The consultant indicates that schools should deliver e-safety through the standard school curriculum. Byron indicates it is essential that children learn how to protect themselves (distributing private information, giving out contact details online, etc.). Here she seeks to build children’s resilience to any material to which they may be exposed. Youngsters need to have both the confidence and the skills to ensure their own online safety.

Bionic teachingIn regards to these extensive education programs, Byron refers to an “authoritative ‘one stop shop’ for child internet safety” based on extensive research regarding what different groups of users want.

Conclusion
In regards to E-safety on the Internet, Byron provides a compelling case for a collaborative approach to protecting children. The writer properly notes that “restricting children’s access to harmful and inappropriate material is not just a question of what industry can do to protect children.”

Such E-safety is the responsibility of parents, teachers, government officials and the technology industry collectively. Only when these groups seek to work in concert will we be able to truly protect our most vulnerable assets, our children.

Internet safety photo by Bionic teaching.

Author: Tom Hanson, OpenEducation Blog, 31st March 2008

[More from this author soon.]

Article available here.

April 4, 2008 at 11:09 am Leave a comment

Byron Report – Version for kids

The report has been fairly well received by the media and the industry overall – if not welcomed in its entirety. What I found most interesting though was that the review comes not just in two the usual summary and full report versions, but a third version for children to read themselves is also available.

Author: Daniel Livingstone, Learning Games Blog, 26th March 2008

Full article available here.

March 29, 2008 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

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About

The purpose of this blog is to provide insight into the impact of computer games and pop culture, and effective ways of incorporating the positive surplus into learning experiences.

Please feel free to add comments and email me with any queries. I am also interested in relevant project collaboration.

Name: Alexandra Matthews
Location: UK

Email: info@gamingandlearning.co.uk / alex@gamingandlearning.co.uk

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