Newtown shooting demands we consider our “call of duty” as parents

Snow-covered stuffed animals with photos attached sit at a memorial in Newtown, Conn. Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. People continue to visit memorials after gunman Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Friday, Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Snow-covered stuffed animals with photos attached sit at a memorial in Newtown, Conn. On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

I admire Fred Assaf, head of Pace Academy in Atlanta, because he doesn’t shy away from the tough issues. Here is another example of his willingness to speak out on behalf of children.

In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, Assaf questions the popularity of violent video games, which many kids received as Christmas gifts last week.

Please note that all comments to the blog will be moderated and appear only after they are read and approved.

By Fred Assaf

Because I come to know 6-year-olds every year by having lunch with them in our Lower School, I know the boundless joy and optimism they have in the heart. They raise their hands when they don’t know the answer. When they run out of knock-knock jokes they know, the make up more on the spot.

They still need help opening their milk cartons. They look forward to holidays, visiting cousins, and seeing grandparents. They love their teachers, crave the structure of a school setting, and are learning to read fast and compute math at an incredible pace.

They will laugh at all of your jokes, even when they aren’t funny. They understand the needs of those around them, they play with all their classmates, and they respect their parents, their teachers, and their god.

I’m headmaster at an independent school in Atlanta. Our school begins in Pre-First (Kindergarten) and ends with 12th grade. My wife and I also have five children of our own. The events in Newtown, Conn., are unimaginable to us and our entire prayer is for sympathy and healing; there is no justice in a situation like this.

It is my tradition to have lunch with the Pre-First students (they are 5 and 6). In so doing I remind myself about my vocation and come to know the boundless energy and potential of children. It is why I teach. I know more Knock-Knock jokes than any adult my age and I like it!

And I’m plagued now by this thought — who shoots 6-year-olds? Because I lead a school I’m always searching for answers, finding a new path forward, and engineering compromise. But this idea of shooting 6-year-olds doesn’t compute; I’m not in search of a motive, as it cannot possibly explain why.

When we had our first child, our family doctor gave us a good piece of advice: “Eskimo children get used to the cold.” As parents we understood that our attitudes and behaviors would shape our children. Though all five of our sons are different, they are shaped by our values and behaviors.

And so I wonder what behaviors we as parents can change. Certainly, we can improve school security. We can provide better training. We can make it harder to get a gun than to it is to get Sudafed. I don’t know all the political answers, but I’d favor anything that makes gratuitous murder more difficult.

Which brings me to my point. As parents, we need to do our best to stop our children from the desensitizing impact of video games. A quick survey of the most popular video games includes the following top 10 games: “Halo,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft,” “Grand Theft Auto.”

Each of these games, simply put, eats away at a child’s sensitivity toward killing. We have “gamified” the murder of people, and our children shoot, steal, and bomb in their virtual worlds. Like the basketball player who practices foul shots, we get better at things when we practice. Their habits become automatic, reactive, and second-nature.

Raising children is a labor of love. Working in a school is a joy. When I reflect on President Obama’s query to ask myself what we can do better as parents, educators, and communities — it seems to me that we can stop letting our children kill people over and over and over again — and call it a GAME.

If you know teenagers like I know teenagers, they will find other things to do once you take away their shooting games – perhaps they will even work on their free throws.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

109 comments Add your comment

Ros Dalton

January 2nd, 2013
2:49 am

Ahh this merry old saw always brings to mind a book I found when I was in middle school. It’s called “From the Ballroom to Hell” and it’s about the insidious and socially destructive habit of ballroom dancing. You see ballroom dancing leads inevitably to delicate young ladies committing a whole string of unimaginable sins, the guilt and social opprobrium of which unavoidably causes them to turn to whoring or suicide.

No, wait, that’s actually a completely specious load of nonsense that a fake preacher made up over a hundred years ago and published to turn a buck.

I get it. Whatever the current crop of young people are doing the current crop of old people finds morally bankrupt and reprehensible, and if only sense could prevail those darn kids would cut that crap out and get back to the wholesome activities we enjoyed in our youth. You know, the ones our parents despised and reviled, like ballroom dancing.

I have to admit I cringe watching 13 year old kids hump dancing. It hurts the little old man in me who thinks back to when I was pushing boundaries by touching my hip to my partner’s during a slow dance. That being confessed, I have not forgotten being young. A child’s peers are a far greater influence on him than his parents, or anyone more than 4 years older than him. Give your kid the tools to select his peers wisely and you’ll have done a significant part of your job as a parent. Throw out his video games (Or cancel his ballroom dancing lessons) and you’ll just be sending him in search of whichever of his peers can give him a window into that world. A video game IS just a game. The simulated violence of football IS just simulated. Ballroom dancing doesn’t lead to whoring and death, it’s just friggin dancing.

Being a parent is about providing the context, experience, and skills to handle life as it exists for our kids and their peers, not about trying to remove the aspects of the world we don’t care for from our children’s experience. Eventually they move out. Then they see things as they truly are and they must come to terms with them. Don’t be that bubble parent.

AnnieAD

January 2nd, 2013
5:34 am

Totally agree with the author.

AnnieAD

January 2nd, 2013
5:35 am

Enter your comments here

Jack ®

January 2nd, 2013
5:38 am

I should have known all that ballroom dancing was messing me up. And all those Gene Autry westerns didn’t help either.

redweather

January 2nd, 2013
6:21 am

Or, “Being a parent is about providing the context, experience, and skills to handle life as it exists for our kids and their peers, [and] about trying to [alter] aspects of the world [that] we [consider harmful to] our children’s experience.”

Beverly Fraud

January 2nd, 2013
6:30 am

“I admire Fred Assaf, head of Pace Academy in Atlanta, because he doesn’t shy away from the tough issues.”

Maybe Fred Assaf can ask Herb Garrett LOL

“Totally agree with the author.”

Not surprising AnnieAD, if you can’t find it within yourself to even question Herb Garrett, all but genuflecting before him, I’m not surprised you won’t critically examine Fred Assaf, who strikes a legitimate cord of concern with his post.

While I see where cultural influences such as video games could lead to desensitizing children to violence, and I appreciate the author’s no doubt well meaning intent, I prefer the more nuanced response of Ros Dalton, in particular:

“Being a parent is about providing the context, experience, and skills to handle life as it exists for our kids and their peers, not about trying to remove the aspects of the world we don’t care for from our children’s experience.”

Nuance and discernment; qualities you would think would be embraced by educators, yet somehow seem shockingly lacking by some posters on this blog.

Puzzlingly really…

Beverly Fraud

January 2nd, 2013
6:43 am

Or, “Being a parent is about providing the context, experience, and skills to handle life as it exists for our kids and their peers, [and] about trying to [alter] aspects of the world [that] we [consider harmful to] our children’s experience.”

Not a bad counterpoint at all redweather; I wonder for example, what might happen if instead of reflexively saying yes or no to buying Call of Duty, one asked “Why do you think you might find it enjoyable to pretend killing people in a realistic manner?”

I’m not claiming a rightness or wrongness to this approach, but I am thinking it may very well provide some of that context. It may even cause the child himself to alter his consumer choice…heck, if he sees the title “From Ballroom to Hell” it may sound so rebellious, that he’ll ask for ballroom dancing lessons LOL

Another Math Teacher

January 2nd, 2013
6:43 am

Watching Tom and Jerry, Roadrunner, and Marvin the Martian have certainly led me down the path of evil. Last week I perfected my Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator and I intend to destroy Venus – as it obstructs my view of Mercury.

Also, it should be noted, my head is flat from my brother smashing me in the head with a frying pan. Damn cartoons.

Teach2Learn

January 2nd, 2013
6:57 am

“Eventually they move out. Then they see things as they truly are and they must come to terms with them.” Ros Dalton

The Newtown shooter did not move out. Parenting is not about allowing, not about giving in, it’s not a game. There’s no extra life, no do-over.

Dr. Monica Henson

January 2nd, 2013
7:12 am

Tom & Jerry, the Road Runner, and Marvin the Martian are nothing like the violent, adult-rated video games (and television shows) to which many American children are given unfettered access by parents too clueless and/or lazy to do their jobs and monitor what their children are doing with media, with age-appropriate restrictions. The trend in video games is to make them as realistic as possible using computer animation techniques, and the military even uses video games to train personnel.

Any parent who permits an elementary schooler to view R-rated films and adult-oriented television shows and play video games clearly marked M for mature is beyond negligent. This is the very definition of horrible parenting.

Beverly Fraud

January 2nd, 2013
7:56 am

@Dr. Henson, I appreciate your response to the Herb Garrett issue. Again, while not a fan of Michelle Rhee, I can appreciate someone who part of (from everything I’ve ever read) a viable alternative to the status quo, and could deal with the status quo (without going bat guano crazy) long enough to bring it to fruition.

Continued success. Now a 7 year old doesn’t get Call of Duty for Christmas. Period. End of story. But I do wonder if it is better to at least engage the 14 year old in the conversation, as to “why” even if, at the end of the day, you still say no?

Finally @Dr. Henson and for profit charters. You do realize when Office Depot, Microsoft, mop makers, tool makers, lawnmower manufacturers and the like sell to the traditional public schools, all of them sell at cost don’t you, and categorically refuse to make any profit off the transactions right? :)

Your school only pays a markup because it’s a charter school.

Fred ™

January 2nd, 2013
8:08 am

Any parent who permits an elementary schooler to view R-rated films and adult-oriented television shows and play video games clearly marked M for mature is beyond negligent. This is the very definition of horrible parenting.

Aren’t you the same person who is all for stealing money from local systems to give to Nathan Deals secret little commission that will decide who offers enough in bribe money to get to build so called “charter schools” where ever Nathan Deal needs to gain political favors and more bribes? THAT is horrible parenting.

Letting my daughter watch movies like Mississippi Burning, and Schindler’s List, isn’t. Maybe YOU think Pollyanna, The Brady Bunch, and Leave it to Beaver are how all kids grow up, but it’s not like that in real life. Maybe you should pull your head out of your rear end and quit posting such inanities. Children in Atlanta are being SHOT by “stray bullets.” They watch neighbors got killed on the street. A video game? REALLY? An R movie? REALLY? Hearing someone drop the “s bomb’ is something new?

It must be nice living in the sitcom 1950’s, but the rest of us live in the real world where racism, senseless violence, and harshness occur on a daily basis. WE want our children educated and prepared to deal with it. Now go give Beaver a cookie Mrs. Cleaver……

Woody

January 2nd, 2013
8:11 am

” They understand the needs of those around them, they play with all their classmates, and they respect their parents, their teachers, and their god.” – We could use some folks like that in Congress. Glad y’all are growing them, there at Pace.

Sparky

January 2nd, 2013
8:31 am

Unevidenced drivel. Do they play violent games in Japan?

Michele

January 2nd, 2013
8:44 am

I totally agree with the author. As a retired middle school teacher, I believe the author’s comments are right on the nail. Yes, I also watched the roadrunner and all the terrible cartoons containing violence, and I don’t kick dogs or terrorize others. There is a difference between these cartoons and the newest of the violent games children watch today. Realistic images of death and destruction are totally unacceptable in a caring society. I also know that there are many young people who are addicted to these games, spending countless hours glued to the screen containing nauseous violence. All these hours could be better spent by these young people. No, I do not think they are bad kids, but I do believe their mindset is seriously changed by incessant watching of these videos. Who knows what the future will hold regarding these students? From my personal experience, I have seen the changes in youth watching these game screens over time. Many of them become self destructive (cutting for example) and seriously depressed and standoffish. They reject authority and often have no idea how to fit into the real world they are forced to live in. Personally, I find most of these games as “vile” and “self-destructive” when parents allow their children to watch them without any time restraints. I would not ever allow a child of mine to own one. My hat is off to the Principal of Pace Academy, Fred Assaf, for having the courage and interest in his children at the school.

guest

January 2nd, 2013
8:51 am

Sparky,

They do. Probably more so than here. The underlying difference – people in the U.S. have NO self-responsibility. It’s always someone or something else at fault.

skipper

January 2nd, 2013
9:05 am

Things have changed, for sure. Years ago, we had wooden cut-out guns to play with. There was a toy gun called a Johnny-7 OMA that was a combination machine gun/pistol/ grenade launcher. It was a must-have at Christmas in the early ’60s (I’m telling my age) and we played army/war all the time. Shows on T.V. like “Combat” were all the kids favorites. However, while we enjoyed playing these games (and did so at school many a time) there was no killing or violence linked to this. G.I. Joe figures with all the camo and war equipment did not cause folks to go off the deep end. Man, how the times have changed. I know that each generation freaks at the next generation’s ways and means, but things have gotten out of hand.

History Teacher

January 2nd, 2013
9:22 am

We have a reason for everything these days. We still do not know what drove the Newtown killer to murder all those people. Media and friends say he was mentally ill but there is no evidence to support that. Some say he suffered from a form of autism—again no evidence to support it.
Did playing Grand Theft Auto or Halo cause him to kill? Again there is nothing for the police to go on.

Maybe he was just plain evil—something not unheard of in this world. We will probably never know.

As with all catastrophic events we look to place blame somewhere. Video games, poor treatment options for the mentally ill, and a number of other ideas have come up with the Newtown killings. And we probably will never have an explanation.

Do video games cause players to view murder differently? Maybe and maybe not. Do the games blur the lines between real death and virtual death? Again the answer is the same.

I have never been one to jump on the blame bandwagon. It is easy to jump on and possibly deflect attention from where it needs to be.

It is unlikely that we will ever have a definative answer about the Newtown massacre. Based on the killer’s efforts to destroy his computer set up there is most likely something there he did not want police and the public to know.

I do not think that young children should be allowed to play violent video games, go to R movies (or many PG movies) or read books that emphasize violence. Not because I think it will make them mass murderers but more because they are not age appropriate.

Parents these days seem more interested in being a friend, rather than a parent, to their children. There is a line between the two that a parent of a child under 18 should not cross. Being a friend to your children comes with age–theirs and not the parents’ age. And part of being a parent means you should think long and hard about age appropriate entertainment.

SBinF

January 2nd, 2013
9:24 am

Guns don’t kill people, video games do?

Now I’ve heard it all!

Really?

January 2nd, 2013
9:31 am

Wow. After scanning some of the comments on here, it seems parents don’t want to actually spend time with their kids, they want the video games to do it. Why have kids? I’m a parent, of a two year old boy, and just last night I was telling someone that I would allow him to play on the computer, pbskids.org and abcmouse, maybe sprout online, and as he gets older, I will not allow him to have a gaming console of any type. Some Pop Warner, little t-ball, maybe some youth wrestling, but no video game console. Probably no cell phone till he’s 13 or 14 either. I’m currently toying with eliminating televisions altogether as well. As a generation x’er myself, having come of age on the cusp of the video game revolution, I know the affect this can have, I’ve seen it, endless hours, sometimes days on end glued to and immersed in the violence, and now it starts so YOUNG. Four and five year olds, who have not yet fully mastered their abc’s weild video game skills with some of the best who’ve been doing it for 10, 15 20 years now. They are born of it. A co-worker of mine said just the other day that her six year old, upon completion of watching a very violent movie turned to her and said that’s what he wanted to do, shoot people. She said she’s already scared of him. He’s six, she’s his mom. Yes, an Eskimo child does get used to the cold. Apparantly some Eskimo parents set them out to sea on a block of ice.

Maureen Downey

January 2nd, 2013
9:36 am

@To all, I am not sure if we yet know the impact of hours and hours of violent video games. I’m surprised at the quick dismissal of the possibility that the games could increase violent behaviors since these extremely violent games are a new phenomenon. We are also now seeing younger and younger kids playing and playing for hours, even on car trips to grandmother’s house for the holidays.
On that note, here is a study released this year:
A longitudinal study of the association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents.
Willoughby, Teena; Adachi, Paul J. C.; Good, Marie
Developmental Psychology, Vol 48(4), Jul 2012, 1044-1057. doi: 10.1037/a0026046
Abstract

In the past 2 decades, correlational and experimental studies have found a positive association between violent video game play and aggression. There is less evidence, however, to support a long-term relation between these behaviors. This study examined sustained violent video game play and adolescent aggressive behavior across the high school years and directly assessed the socialization (violent video game play predicts aggression over time) versus selection hypotheses (aggression predicts violent video game play over time). Adolescents ( N = 1,492, 50.8% female) were surveyed annually from Grade 9 to Grade 12 about their video game play and aggressive behaviors. Nonviolent video game play, frequency of overall video game play, and a comprehensive set of potential 3rd variables were included as covariates in each analysis. Sustained violent video game play was significantly related to steeper increases in adolescents’ trajectory of aggressive behavior over time. Moreover, greater violent video game play predicted higher levels of aggression over time, after controlling for previous levels of aggression, supporting the socialization hypothesis. In contrast, no support was found for the selection hypothesis. Nonviolent video game play also did not predict higher levels of aggressive behavior over time. Our findings, and the fact that many adolescents play video games for several hours every day, underscore the need for a greater understanding of the long-term relation between violent video games and aggression, as well as the specific game characteristics (e.g., violent content, competition, pace of action) that may be responsible for this association. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Anne Kimberly

January 2nd, 2013
9:37 am

“Sparky” brings up an important point. Our neighbors to the North are playing the same video games and watching the same movies, but are refraining from killing each other. What’s the difference between Canadian and U.S. kids? What’s the difference between U. S. children exposed to violence and choose not to act out and those who choose to pick up weapons and commit murder? We have to stop over-simplifying and search for real answers.

SBinF

January 2nd, 2013
9:42 am

Anne it is far more difficult to obtain a firearm in Canada than in the U.S.

Incidentally, when I was up in Canada this past summer, there was a story on the news about increasing gun violence as a result of the illegal firearms trade between the U.S. and Canada….that is, easily obtainable firearms in the U.S. being smuggled to Canada.

SEE

January 2nd, 2013
9:50 am

I used to obsess over my weight. At 5′6″ and 125 pounds, I worried that my upper thighs had fat ripples. I contemplated plastic surgery for my abdomen. Instead, I did something just as drastic, I stopped watching TV. I turned off “Friends” and “Sex in the City”, for some goal that was not even related to how I looked. At the end of the time period, I discovered that I no longer obsessed over my looks. I truly believe the constant barrage of images of “perfect” bodies and shows whose characters obsessed over their looks silently molded my thoughts. I never went back to TV again.

I believe what you watch and the games you play are molding your outlook on life, whether you acknowledge it or not. You may not kill people, but are you more callous towards others? Are you less likely to be tolerant of those little quirks or opinions that may annoy you? Is your rhetoric harsher? How do you know those shows and games have not affected your thinking in subtle ways? Take a 6 month break from violent TV and video games and see if there is a change. Remember, a frog will not jump out of a pot of boiling water if the heat is turned up a little at a time. The frog won’t notice the change.

indigo

January 2nd, 2013
10:04 am

In the 1950’s, as a child, I went to every violent cowboy movie there was. I also saw all kinds of violent gangster movies.

No one ever brought a gun to school.

No one even thought of that.

Violent games aren’t causing this.

A huge emphasis on Civil Rights in the 60’s, with a corresponding total neglect of Civil Responsibilities, which persists to this day, is largely responsible for so many of the ills of our society.

Xavier

January 2nd, 2013
10:06 am

This is basically the substance of the argument: “I don’t have any evidence for this, and all studies have shown that no link exists, but I choose to believe it, so there.”

It always ALWAYS comes down to the mental/emotional health of the individual. Parents need to start being objective and honest about their “little angels” when it’s warranted. If you have a mentally/emotionally stunted child, maybe you need to seek treatment and be careful concerning what they put in their minds.

Could a disturbed child (or young adult) become influenced by the violence on TV and in video games? Of course. But a healthy, normal individual turning into a rabid killer by what they watch and play? Come on. There’s no science behind that, and there’s absolutely NO scholarship to back it up. And trust me: People have been trying to find that link for years (hello, Jack Thompson!), so if it existed, it would have been found.

And I’m also going to state the obvious: Game ratings are akin to movies. The games listed by this individual are not supposed to be for those under 17. But hey: Let’s have more controls on entertainment. Why not?

Nazan Yar

January 2nd, 2013
10:09 am

There’s certainly no silver bullet to this issue, and I’m not one to put blame on video games, dungeons and dragons, or any other form of entertainment. Part of the issue is that parenting takes tons of physical and emotional energy. If kids are left to their own devices, without constant, intentional parental steering, our kids’ ability to discern right from wrong may be lessened. I’d propose one ideal that needs to be addressed is what causes our parents to have less energy to devote intentionally to our children? Perhaps the drive for more income? Better providing for our families? Keeping up with the Jones’? Each parent working long hours at a job? Single parents? I’d like to see some data on this – again not putting blame all in one place, but an interesting thought.

BehindEnemyLines

January 2nd, 2013
10:13 am

Disappointingly shortsided commentary from someone who, ostensibly, ought to be smart enough to know better.

As a gamer for more than 30 years myself — back to the Intellivision era — I’ve been quite happy to share that hobby with my child, soon to be 15, for nearly a decade. The amount of teaching opportunities the games have provided is staggering, even to me. Discussions on everything from strategy & tactics to manufacturing to geography to psychology to biology to technology. Nowhere has gaming been more influential than on his interest in history, providing me with years of challenges (and improving my Google skills) to answer questions about the whos, whys, hows and whatever-happened-tos that come up on a regular basis. They’ve been critical in the development of a child that is an honor roll student at a school very much the equal of the author’s own, that has declared his interest in majoring in history as preparation for law school since before he was 10, that has been examining his college options since around the same age. Gaming has also played a key role in developing a child that volunteers to work with handicapped children & at animal shelters, that will likely complete his Eagle Scout requirements before turning 16, that is confident in following his convictions, that has a highly developed sense of both duty and honor, that is engaged with the world around him at every level from hyper-local to global. In short, I’ve had the privilege to watch my son grow into someone that I’ve long been able to describe as being simply a better human being already than I’ve been on my best days.

And he’s done it all with some of best known game series — Halo, Call of Duty, Fallout, Elder Scrolls — being a regular part of more than half his life.

No Mr. Assaf, the games aren’t the mysterious key to this topic. Involved & engaged parenting is key — a willingness to explore, discuss, listen, guide, inquire. The commitment to actually take time to parent. You see, those almost countless hours of gaming my child has done have been undertaken with consistent engagement, with consistent supervision, with consistent time investment.

What a sad commentary — both personally and professionally — that you appear so invested in looking for a boogeyman to blame when the most critical answer stares you in the face every day. We have met the enemy Mr. Assaf, and collectively, he is us.

Rick L in ATL

January 2nd, 2013
10:16 am

Our call of duty right now is to figure out ways to immediately provide better protection for children, not to argue about the causes of pathology or how many guns = too many. Listen, even as a conservative-leaning libertarian, I appreciate that we have too many guns and especially too many military-style guns. But we’re being distracted by the arguments over gun control and what causes young men to go on killing sprees, and what we should be focusing on, right now, is protection.

What can we do right now, in other words, to reduce the exposure our children have at unguarded schools?

And the answer is right in front of us. According to the NY Times, the Newtown killer bypassed the first classroom he came to because he couldn’t open the door. He went on to the next two classrooms and killed everyone inside.

Why aren’t we talking about steel fire doors with sliding heavy-duty bolt locks for every classroom door? Certainly that’s cheaper than spending billions on more armed guards, and it won’t set off an endless and unproductive argument.

Remember–no matter where you stand on gun control, 100 million people in this country disagree with you and they have votes and political clout just like you do, and they will never acquiesce to what you feel should be the standard on gun ownership. So stop wasting time arguing about it–because it is an issue that’ll never move more than a few inches in either direction in your lifetime– and put your focus where it can actually do some good.

Decaturite

January 2nd, 2013
10:30 am

IMHO, a child’s developing brain, thinking patterns, emotions, and perception of reality are shaped by what is put in front of the child. Not determined, but shaped. Since I want my children to reach their highest potential, not just get by, I allow them to be exposed to healthy, positive images, and examples in their video games and media contact. Filth and gratuitious violence are not healthy so I do not expose them to pornography or violent games. And they are missing…………nothing. I have yet to see a value to pornography or violent games.

Point/Counterpoint

January 2nd, 2013
10:31 am

It’s really quite simple. With technology, parents no longer have to parent, they only entertain. When I took my small children out in public, I did not have a smartphone I could hand them to watch cartoons from Netflix. I had to talk to them, play games with them and teach them how to behave. When traveling, there were no dvd’s. We talked, played license tag games, checked out the scenery or read books. They were allowed to watch tv and played video games (as teenagers) that killed people. I did talk to them about make believe games and reality. We talked everyday. They knew that as long as they behaved and did what they were supposed to ,everything was great. Step out of line, and they would suffer the consequences. Communication is lacking when children spend the majority of their time wired.
Just wondering, how many of you have been terrorized at a restaurant by wild children at the next table while their parents seem oblivious to the situation?

living in an outdated ed system

January 2nd, 2013
10:32 am

Fred, while we’re at it, lets prevent our kids from watching violent movies, TV shows, violent plays, violent performances of any kind. Lets put our children in a bubble of “innocence.”

In all seriousness, the violence in any form of entertainment is not what ills our society. We as parents have the power to moderate what our children are exposed to, and when. Fred should be reminding his students that sites like Common Sense Media do a great job with ratings – much more detailed than how they rate video games and TV/Film.

I worked in the media industry for 20 years, and Fred shows no research that correlates violent video games with real life youth crime. It is not a new datapoint that most of the top selling video games are “M” rated, but there are countless other video games that are good games and appropriate for kids. There is research on both sides of this issue, but it is reckless for Fred to throw the video games industry under the bus. I suspect he will get significant backlash from his community.

Maureen, I caution you to share research that is one-sided. There is research on both sides and there is no conclusive evidence that violent video games is an isolating risk factor adversely affecting our youth. Here is one article and I am happy to cite even more specific research to anyone who wants it. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/dec/30/games-first-person-shooter-vaughan-bell

I caution everyone to be VERY careful about pointing fingers when the research is 100% inconclusive at this time. Bottom line – monitor your kids game consumption and know what they’re playing!

Sad stuff from parents

January 2nd, 2013
10:44 am

Thank you Dr. Assaf for your genuine concern for the children at Pace.
Reading all these comments defending violent video games makes me sad. That any parent thinks their children learn something valuable from a virtual horror show of shooting and maiming is the saddest thing of all.
There is an education component to video games, just as there is from children’s TV. Children learn their ABCs from Sesame Street. What do they learn from Halo?

John Gnauck

January 2nd, 2013
10:51 am

Teachers and Guns.

We cannot afford to provide specialized armed guards to each of 220,000 schools in the U.S.

There is a good probability that the guard will not be at the right place at the right time. Uniformed guards would be an early target.

Teachers should not be “required to carry guns.” But if a teacher obtains a permit for the appropriate state, which includes training and a background check they should be encouraged to carry.

Guns Free Zones are islands of innocents. Get rid of them.

Teachers who choose to carry have the same responsibility that any handgun carrier has. To maintain control of the gun at all times. In some cases this may mean a thumb print lock box in the classroom.

TIm "Mr. Science" Perkins

January 2nd, 2013
10:51 am

The military does use video game training. Many educational processes use multimedia as an efficient way to influence thoughts. Billions of dollars are poured into advertising campaigns specifically tuned to reach particular demographics. Why? Because it works! Arguments that people don’t chase roadrunners after watching a cartoon coyote are foolishness… a child WILL try chasing a bird given the opportunity; it’s called “play”. And although grownups do it less or differently, we still think about that roadrunner – therefor it IS lurking in our heads.

There is a missing half to this argument; balancing multimedia educational influences with discretion, compassion, and respect. For example; soldiers trained to kill are also trained when NOT to. They are debriefed and evaluated after missions or conflicts. What child is ever talked “down” from the high of achieving a violent game’s highest levels? They are not. In fact, the game escalates the tension and encourages an increase in “scoring” (killing). Each level and each new addition of the game incrementally increases the anticipation of a more profound experience.

For some, visceral stimuli is a temporary and completely manageable distraction from everyday thoughts. For others, however, it is more. Like a glass of wine or a few minutes on Facebook; i.e. some individuals have an overwhelming response. We all know that some people faint at the sight of blood, some are terrified by their own shadow, some startle easily, and so on. Where is the screening for those who are easily influenced by multimedia? Can a game identify if the person playing it is really practicing to fly a plane into a tower? Can a lurid image know if the person viewing it is voyeuristically stimulated to the point of sexually assaulting someone? Can a child know if his or her parent is not qualified to properly assess a young mind’s psychological condition? Can a young parent know what they don’t know? Maybe someday technology will help us in these areas, but not now. As long as we as a society do not teach responsibility before, during, and after each influential experience – we will continue to blindly (and painfully) bump into our own ignorance. Some will pay the ultimate price.

Don’t legislate what you can educate.

SBinF

January 2nd, 2013
10:52 am

Did someone on this discussion really link the civil rights movement to the decay of society?

Really?

Dr. Monica Henson

January 2nd, 2013
11:00 am

Beverly Fraud posted, “But I do wonder if it is better to at least engage the 14 year old in the conversation, as to “why” even if, at the end of the day, you still say no?”

Totally agree, and a lot depends on the maturity of the 14-year-old. It’s not a good idea for a parent of a middle schooler or high schooler, or even an older elementary schooler, to issue edicts with no discussion. My point was for young children, which I think of P-4 or 5 as falling into that category, that violent, M-rated video games & similar television shows & films are utterly inappropriate.

“Finally @Dr. Henson and for profit charters. You do realize when Office Depot, Microsoft, mop makers, tool makers, lawnmower manufacturers and the like sell to the traditional public schools, all of them sell at cost don’t you, and categorically refuse to make any profit off the transactions right?

Your school only pays a markup because it’s a charter school.”

Absolutely not true. No private company, unless they are making a special exception, sells to public schools “at cost.” Many of them sell at a discount, and we purchase quite a bit at a discount ourselves. Talk to any purchasing agent at any school district, and they’ll tell you that companies compete fiercely for public school contracts. They don’t do that because they’re selling at cost.

Atlanta Mom

January 2nd, 2013
11:05 am

really-Go for it, turn off the TV completely. My children, all in college now, only got to watch TV between 5 and 6 when I was making dinner, and only PBS. While it made for some awkward moments–when they were at friends homes and announced to the care taker that they weren’t allowed to watch TV, or when in an ice breaking activity their favorite TV program was never the same as anyone else’s, none of them own a TV now. Interaction with your child is so much better than watching them watch TV.

All I'm Saying Is....

January 2nd, 2013
11:10 am

“A huge emphasis on Civil Rights in the 60’s, with a corresponding total neglect of Civil Responsibilities, which persists to this day, is largely responsible for so many of the ills of our society.”
—Dumbest comment of this whole thread. Implies that allowing women to exercise the full freedoms inherent in the Constitution (such as voting and working outside the home) was wrong.

Second dumbest is the notion that violent video game play leads to decreased sensitivity regarding sanctity of human life. Violent video game play at the expense of education or teaching self control leads to an inability to do a lot of productive things. But neither video games nor guns nor automobiles nor knives nor ropes, etc. kill people. Irresponsible use of the preceding leads to tragedies.

No one is defending violent video games. Some of us are trying to bring sanity back to this discussion. Like all things, too much video game play is bad for all involved.

Video games are rated as to their age appropriateness. Whether or not parents allow their child to play games rated “M” for Mature (meaning 18 or older is recommended) is a parental decision. The real issue is parents making poor decisions. These poor decisions could involve allowing their kids too much freedom, letting their kids watch too much TV or participate too heavily in sports at the expense of doing their homework. These poor decisions are the areas at fault and not the activity itself.

Headmasters of schools should focus on the primary things they can do such as
-school security (i.e. bullet proof glass at entry points, armed security patrolling the premises, security cameras),
-controlled access to school property during the school day,
-educating students so that they are thinking and engaged individuals, and
-providing counseling and mental health awareness.

And while I can find a study to support anything these days, I must say Maureen that you do this dialog no service when you post links to studies that are ultimately inconclusive. I would suggest you stick with the “all things in moderation” with “school work always coming first” point of view.

Don't Tread

January 2nd, 2013
11:14 am

Good luck outlawing video games….the People’s Republik of Kalifornia tried that and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

It’s not the guns, violent video games, movies, television, etc. It’s BAD PARENTING, plain and simple, whether that constitutes teaching the wrong values or just letting the electronic devices babysit the kid for you. However, I don’t think there is any way to legislate “good parenting” that would pass Constitutional muster either.

mike

January 2nd, 2013
11:17 am

So, what if the kids play MADDEN NFL 24/7? Are they then going to go out and be a football player? Get a grip people. If you try and say that the game is the cause then it has to go both ways. Why is it only violent games that concern you? So my son who plays Dance Dance Revolution and my Daughter who plays Call of Duty are going to grow up to be a male dancer and a female soldier?

ImaDAD

January 2nd, 2013
11:22 am

Don’t the games referenced come with a “Parental Rating”? I am not real sure because my son really only plays the EA Sports NBA, NFL, and MLB games and I spend my time waiting by the phone for his pro sports agent to call with his million dollar pro contract.

Though the game MAY provide a sense of “softening killing” to some who are not mentally stable enough to understand the difference, and as much as I hate the government being involved with telling me what is good for my child, they do. So PARENTS, take that for what it is. Maybe a game rated for 17 yr olds and older really is a bad idea for a 6 yr old? Or maybe at least for one that is given the game at Christmas and is allowed to play in his room, site unseen for hours on end with no PARENT involvement in the rest of his life.

Silly as it is but referenced above, I grew up watching the Coyote spend 30 minutes trying to “kill” the Road Runner, but never in my immature, uneducated mind think it was OK to kill anything.

Start with being a freakin’ PARENT and not your child’s best friend!!! The word “NO” didn’t kill me and it will not kill my kids either. Just because the game may not be appropriate for your child or their age or even perhaps their mental capacity, doesn’t mean it can’t be ENTERTAINMENT for older, mature, or those with the mental capacity.

Please accept my reference to the “mental” issue as raising the flag to a whole different issue we have here that NOBODY seems to want to address and not in a derogatory way.

ClydeFr0g

January 2nd, 2013
11:24 am

Video games are not to blame here folks. It’s the parents. This seems to be the elephant in the room that no one wants to address.

In the same time period that video games have gotten more and more realistic and more wide-spread, violent crime has DROPPED. Find your own data at CDC and FBI.

I was in the “latch-key kid” generation, I guess we were so named because we were the fist generation that had both parents working full-time jobs and so there was no parent waiting at home when we got off school.

Unfortunately this has not improved, it’s only gotten more prevalent. Too many kids either have very little time with their parents because they both work, or the quality of their time with their parents is so low because both parents are worn out or on a long leash, connected to their jobs 24/365 via smart phones and email (and not by the parents’ choice).

I believe this can be traced back to one thing: the extreme devaluation of the dollar. Both parents *have* to work nowadays. Gone are the days of the stay-at-home wife with the man’s income alone enough to buy a decent standard of living. Hell, we’ll be lucky if both parents’ incomes are enough to buy a decent standard of living soon!

Anyway….it’s up to the parents to monitor their children…what they watch, what the play, and what they do. And this seems to be a point the author is making. I just hope the point isn’t misinterpreted so that some believe we need to destroy the First AND Second Amendments to our Constitution for our kids’ sake, because that is truly doing NO favors for future generations.

All I'm Saying Is....

January 2nd, 2013
11:28 am

And let me also add that an example of a poor parental decision was the decision by the Lanza mom to train her clearly mentally unstable son in the art of handling and shooting a gun as a means to better bond with him and her other son.

What sense does that make?

Had she never heard of other possible hobbies they all could have enjoyed such as stamp collecting or golf or needlepoint or tennis or baseball trading cards or any number of things that don’t inherently involve lethal weapons?

Hunter

January 2nd, 2013
11:34 am

Here’s the deal. I have been around guns my ENTIRE life. Starting at 9 when I got my first shotgun and have NEVER had the want to go out and kill someone. I KNEW dead was DEAD. My father was my friend and also my FATHER!! Stop trying to find the BLAME and start being the SOLUTION…educate your kids, spend time with them, NOT EVERYONE gets to WIN! Not EVERY kid should get a trophy. ENOUGH of this “Johhny got his feelings hurt because he didnt make the team so he had to retaliate” garbage. That is ONE thing those games do teach is that you can’t ALL be winners. But I do hear a bunch of whiners out there!

Mountain Man

January 2nd, 2013
11:34 am

There is a big difference between the road runner cartoons or even the old westerns and the violent video games. In road runner, the coyote never dies, even though he falls from great heights and has safes land on him. In the old westerns, only the bad guy dies, and usually no blood is ever seen. In the new video games, you can view the brains being spalltered out of the heads.

What is missing in these games is a discussion of the effects of this violence on the people who are dispatched. Even in war, there are wives, children, and friends of the “enemy”. Do these games show the funereals for the dead – the crying and grief and mourning? No. Even in HALO (I assume, since I have never played it) there are alien families, are there not? These games make it sound like the player is fighting pure evil – what, are they fighting demons from hell, Lucifer’s minions?

IN order for these video games to be truly “realistic”, they need to show the suffering of the enemy, and maybe draw some lines about what is right and wrong. When we fought the Germans in WWII, was it because ALL Germans were evil? If so, why did we not go on to obliterate the race of Germans. Same with the Japanese. Why did we help them rebuild their society and now call them friends? It is because they were not pure evil; they were only enemies of the moment. When our soldiers are killed, we weep and mourn and show the grief – why do the enemy soldiers (yes, even Bin Laden’s minions) deserve any less. You can bet they portray us and our soldiers as faceless evil monsters – that is why the 9-11 terrorists could so callously kill 3000 of us – they did not consider us as deserving to live because we were so evil.

MoFaux

January 2nd, 2013
11:46 am

Maureen, this is not a new phenomenon, depending on your definition of “new”. Remember the arcade game Mortal Kombat? That old game had some quite graphic kill scenes. As a gen-xer myself (and parent) who grew up playing video games, I agree that young children should not be decaptitating foes in video games. But, a 14 year old? Even without my mom monitoring what I was doing, I was able to comprehend that just because it was ok for my character in a video game to go on a killing spree, that somehow it was inappropriate to do so in real life, as myself. The lack of gun control and mental health has much more to do with mass killings in real life than any video game ever will. Good parenting trumps everything though.

Mountain Man

January 2nd, 2013
11:54 am

“Second dumbest is the notion that violent video game play leads to decreased sensitivity regarding sanctity of human life.”

Then why does the Army use these video games as training exercises? I heard that during WWII, the number of soldiers that actually killed the enemy was small – they just couldn’t make themselves do it. My own father told me that during his entire stint in the war, he is not sure he actually shot and killed anyone. During the Vietnam war, it was common for the North Vietnamese to be referred to as “gooks” so as to make them impersonal and subhuman. It is hard to kill a fellow man, so the Army tells you the enemies are “less than human” to make it easier to kill them.

If these video games just want you to kill something, why don’t they teach you to shoot rabid packs of wolves – oh, sorry, then PETA would get all uspet. So let’s just kill humans instead.

collegedude

January 2nd, 2013
12:09 pm

Seriously, all of the “educated people” want to play the blame game. Let’s blame the guns. Let’s blame video games. Let’s blame Hollywood & violent TV & movies. BUT let’s not blame the individual that carried out this horrible act.

No, he wasn’t at fault, it had to be something else. Sorry, but if parents and educators would enforce than ethos of personal responsibility instead of looking to pass the blame then the world would be a much better place. Video games were no more responsible Fred Assif is responsible. Can we please stop passing the blame and start making people accept the responsibility for their own actions?

SMB in CT

January 2nd, 2013
12:16 pm

Having successfully raised two boys to manhood (30 and 26 yrs old), who played Halo and Call of Duty in their teen years, and who still get together with friends to play occasionally, I have a couple of comments. I think it was back in the ’50’s that Bandura and Bandura did a study on the correlation between watching violence and becoming violent. Their conclusions amounted to the fact that in those cases where kids had already shown aggressive behavior, they had the tendency to become more aggressive when exposed to violence, while more docile kids were not so affected by viewing violence. It must be noted that violence expressed int the 50s was much more benign than what is hurled at kids today. My kids, in their high-school years played these war games, but were not allowed the Grand Theft Auto games, as they involved prostitutes and killing police officers. Had either showed aberrant or aggressive behavior , no violent games would have been allowed in our home. Let’s face it, violence depicted today is far more gratuitous and graphic than it was 40 years ago, when people who were shot fell down in a heap and that was that. In the 1960s, Sam Peckinpaugh was one of the first directors to show us slo-mo graphic violence with blood and guts. Now, our movies and TV programs have anesthetized us to exploding heads and intestines by constantly pushing the envelope. And as for the gentleman who thinks that grinding on the dance floor is the same as accidentally brushing a girl’s hip, ask todays teachers and parents if they like the fact that their 12 and 13 year old students and children are happy being sexualized at such an early age. Psychologists are linking the increase in early sexual activity to substance abuse and depression. Bottom line, parents need to be parents. Stop talking on the cell phone in the car and talk to your kids…make them take the earphones out…eventually they’ll talk! Teach them about empathy and kindness and be examples of that in your own lives. Everyone talks about peer pressure, but kids really look to their folks for approval. Use common sense; all R-rated movie are not alike. “Schindler’s List” is an opportunity for a conversation and is NOT the same as “Drag Me to Hell”. Stop making the kids the center of your universe, as it puts way too much pressure on them to be your “everything”. Chill out about the small stuff and above all, LISTEN. And one final bit of advice, if you have troubled kids in your house, you might want to leave the assault rifles out of your very well protected arsenal. It seems that there is an equation in our society that is becoming more prevalent: troubled kids, plus violent video games that glorify assault rifles, plus access to those weapons, equals tragedy on an epic scale.