A recent study by researchers at Brock University in Canada, reported in The Telegraph, found that teenagers who play violent video games over an extended period of years do in fact become more aggressive themselves. The longtitudinal study involved 1,492 adolescents from eight High Schools in Ontario, with the participants 14 or 15 at the start, and 17 or 18 at the end, and it compared how use of video games correlated with behaviour in the real world. Regular players of violent games were found to be more likely to react aggressively to unintentional provocation in real life, while those who played non-violent games did not show increased aggressive tendencies. To clarify their findings, the researchers found no evidence that more aggressive teenagers were more likely to play violent video games in the first place; there really did appear to be a causal link between the games and external aggressive behaviour.
This is of course no surprise to those of us in education, who help see many thousands – hundreds of thousands – of young people through the exciting, turbulent, demanding, vulnerable and impressionable years of their childhood and teenagehood. We know the importance of role models and of modelling sensible, socially appropriate behaviour; we are reminded frequently that a young child is a blank canvas, upon which will be marked a unique mixture of genes, circumstances, family, friends and experiences, and out of which will come a fully-formed adult different to none another, yet with much in common with many or most. We understand that prevailing cultures – be they in the classroom, in the community, or in the media – have an enormous impact on young people, and that a considerable amount of our energy as educators is spent trying to guide our charges through the conflicting messages they receive, doing our best to balance their development as individuals who will determine their own thoughts and feelings, with their development as social beings who need to learn how to appreciate the world around them, and to contribute to it.
Video games have much going for them – the development of mental and manual dexterity, for instance – and we should certainly not put them all on the ‘do not touch’ pile of socially unacceptable activities. But we do have to be critical about their content, and not be afraid to speak out about – and, if necessary, regulate – content which can be potentially harmful to individuals, especially young people (for whom we all have a particular responsibility), and which can be equally harmful to our society. Studies such as this one are helpful in giving a greater impetus to our task.
Don’t be afraid to look at – and be vocal about – the content of your teenager’s video gaming choices.