Violent Gaming l January 2015

While kids everywhere play violent videogames, parents wonder about negative effects from all that shooting, maiming and killing. Some scientific research is worth our attention.

It’s no surprise that research has documented increased physical and psychological arousal in the aftermath of violent gaming. Of particular concern is the finding that such games result in ruder and more insensitive behavior toward others immediately after the game playing.i The effect has been found to last up to nine minutes — long enough to be an issue if your game-playing youngster rejoins family activity immediately upon leaving the game console. Observe your child’s re-entry after violent gaming. Perhaps there would be benefit from a “cooling down” period — chilling out with a book or non-stimulating TV show — so he or she is better positioned to bring courtesy and sensitivity to others, and to exercise self-control.

Researchers are concerned that over the long term, violent gaming leads to desensitization — violent images stop having any impact after enough regular exposure. There’s evidence that areas of the brain responsible for empathy in particular, show negative changes among teens exposed to violent images over long periods of time, leading to what some researchers describe as a kind of moral immaturity.ii Speculation is that excessive violent gaming may be replacing traditional, positive social experiences in a youngster’s life — hanging out with friends, participating in extra-curricular clubs and activities, reading or watching TV — allowing the games’ values to carry undue influence when it comes to the development of an accurate sense of right and wrong.iii

Parents might be wise to set time limits on violent game play (while endorsing non-violent videogames), and make a point of educating youngsters (through film, television, books and especially conversation) about the suffering that results from even relatively minor violence. The goal is to promote in our sons and daughters the development of empathy and a recognition that senseless violence must never be treated casually or with indifference.

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i Barlett, Christopher, et al. How long do the short-term violent video game effects last? Aggressive Behavior, Volume 35, Issue 3, May/June 2009, pages 225–236.
ii Brock, Bastian et al. Cyber-dehumanization: Violent video game play diminishes our humanity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 2, March 2012, pages 486–491.
iii Bajovic, Mirjana. Violent video gaming and moral reasoning in adolescents: is there an association? Educational Media International, Volume 50, Issue 3, 2013, pages 177-191.

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Mindful Parenting l November/December 2014

Which of your "brains" do you use when you discipline your kids — your emotional brain, or your logical brain?

If you tend to react quickly to your children’s missteps, as most of us do, you’re probably working from your emotional brain. It’s designed through evolution to fly into action quickly rather than pause, evaluate, and weigh and measure next steps. (Read Two Brains, April/May 2014.)

The most effective parenting comes from our logical brain. It enables us to think about our children’s misbehavior, notice the emotional impact the misbehavior is having on us, and consider all options before we say or do anything. Knee-jerk reactions rarely lead to fine parenting.

For instance, you hear loud sounds coming from your son's bedroom. When you open the door you find him hurling his books and toys off shelves and onto the floor in a fit of extreme anger. His face is red, his chest is puffing, and homework sheets are strewn everywhere. What do you do?

If you react quickly — perhaps scolding, yelling, or demanding that he pick everything up at once — you’re working from your emotional brain. On the other hand, if you slowly survey the scene, notice how worked up you are right now, ask what happened, perhaps acknowledge how angry he seems, and decide to talk to him later about what set him off and how he handled frustration — after you and he both cool down — you're working from your logical brain.

We’re more effective when we respond rather than react … but only our logical brain is capable of responding. It does so only once we move our emotional brain out of the way. That’s accomplished by learning to insert time between the stimulus (what our kids say or do) and our response. It’s part of what’s known as mindful parenting. Maybe we take deep breaths and privately count slowly to ten before opening our mouths. Or maybe we say to our kids, “I don’t like what I see … I don’t like what’s going on … I’m going to think about it and we’ll talk later.” Short of a toddler dashing into the street, few moments with our children are best handled through an instantaneous reaction.

“When emotional reactions replace mindfulness …
it is very unlikely that you will be able to maintain nurturing
communication and connection with your child.”1


1Siegel, Daniel J. and Mary Hartzell. Parenting from the Inside Out. (New York: Tarcher/ Putnam), 2003.

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Enough Sleep | September/October 2014

With the start of the new school year, routines are taking shape. Youngsters are assembling the complex puzzle in which homework, activities, sports, social life and family time compete for a limited number of hours in the day. Frequently it seems there’s not enough time to do it all, that something’s got to give. What often gives? Our children’s sleep.

Cutting corners when it comes to sleep is more hazardous to our kids’ welfare than most parents realize. We may be so accustomed to playing fast and loose with sleep — we often compromise our own as we go about our over-scheduled lives — that we’ve lost perspective on our children’s need for sleep.

What scientists have come to understand is that during sleep, the brain consolidates what’s been learned during waking hours, making that learning accessible later on. In other words, studying for tomorrow’s test is more effective when it’s followed by a good night’s sleep. It’s as though the sleep process stores new learning in a kind of mental hard drive, where that learning proves easier to recall when needed.

This isn’t just about book learning. Sufficient sleep has been found to improve focus and concentration, whether the task is academic, athletic, or the pleasures of a hobby or simple pastime. Sleep has been called “food for the brain,” providing a kind of essential fuel for optimal functioning in every way. It enables persistence and perseverance, making it easier to tackle a math worksheet, a tennis serve or a tricky interpersonal situation with a group of friends. Insufficient sleep has been associated with negative mood, inconsistent performance and productivity, and poor behavioral self-control.i

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amounts of sleep for children and teens:ii

    1-3 years old = 12-14 hours of sleep
    3-5 years old = 11-13 hours of sleep
    5-12 years old = 10-11 hours of sleep
    12-18 years old = 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep

It’s easy to look away when our children sacrifice sleep for the activities we particularly value, like academics and athletics, especially knowing they’re apt to kick up a fuss if we dare declare “lights out.” But as a foundation of their overall welfare, adequate sleep is a battle worth taking on.


i National Institutes of Health, National Center on Sleep Disorders Research and Office of Prevention, Education, and Control. Working group report on problem sleepiness. August 1997.
ii Data from The National Sleep Foundation, at www.Sleepfoundation.org.

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