February 5, 2012

Youth and Violence: The Role of Video Games and Technology

Last week Chrysalis staff was invited to attend a conference on youth and violence at Mercy Medical Center, which is working with a community coalition (including Chrysalis) to reduce violence in women ages 12-24.

Prior to the coalition meeting, we were invited to listen to a Mercy children’s psychiatrist, whose presentation on youth and the media was frightening.  Among the points he made about the effects of today’s media were:

×          Four-year-old children who watched just 9 minutes of a fast-paced cartoon (such as SpongeBob) performed worse on attention and problem-solving puzzles for hours after the viewing, and lost up to ½ their capacity in “executive functioning” tasks over this period.

×          75% of young boys playing 90 minutes of video games daily exhibited a marked increase in aggression, lack of empathy, and violent tendencies.

×          For 18-29 year-olds exposed to 10 hours of violent video games per week, there was a significant loss of brain activity in attention, inhibition, and decision-making.  Their reading and academic performance is poor, and the video games result in youth role-play as a “rehearsal” for future violence.

×          Kids watching violent videos and television become desensitized to pain and violence, have nightmares and sleep disorders, have poor or no social skills, are more aggressive, have more physical fights, and are more likely to be obese.

There is even a new diagnostic tag known as “Facebook depression,” caused by experiences on Facebook such as bullying (such as posting demeaning photos or derogatory messages) and loss of self self-worth because one has fewer “friends” or “likes” than their peers.

, researchers at Stanford University reviewed an online survey taken by over 3,400 8- to 12-year-old girls and found:

Those who say they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.

The researchers suggest that girls (boys were not included in the survey) “need to experience the full pantheon of communication that comes from face-to-face contact, such as learning to read body language, and subtle facial and verbal cues.” The more media use of any kind, the less time for real-world interaction — and face-to-face contact was strongly associated with feeling good about social connections.  Boiled down to its simplest result, this survey reveals that the more time 8- to 12-year-old girls say they spend online, the less happy they are.

What the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends is this:
1.        no more than 1-2 hours of “media time” (television, internet, videogames, etc.) for children daily
2.       no television in children’s bedrooms
3.       no television for children under 2 years old
4.      parents watch television with their children, select programs, and talk about what they see

While this may seem impossible, what is possible is to encourage children and youth to spend time reading, playing outdoors, journaling, or participating in sports.  What is possible is providing quality experiences for youth to talk with adults, share with each other, learn to express feelings, make social connections, and give and receive support from their friends.  What is possible is to continue to provide Chrysalis After-School programs to hundreds of 9-14 year-old girls every year, where we deliver these quality experiences.