Grades, Games and Youth Violence
There has been a great deal of ink spilled about violence and youths in our country. Recently we had two egregious cases where two schoolboys were actually stabbed to death by their classmates after objectively minor disagreements. This phenomenon is not confined to Guyana. While this does not excuse our youths, it does suggest we may learn from the experience of those countries that have studied the phenomena with an eye towards crafting ameliorative programs. We cite one such study below.
Imagine two adolescent boys, Bobby and Tommy. They are the same age, race, ethnicity, and even go to the same school. There is just one crucial difference: Tommy does well in school and Bobby does not. And that, according to a new study, predicts which of them will be drawn to violent video games and aggressive behaviour.
The study was conducted by researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Amsterdam and published in a recent issue of the Journal of Adolescence. Researchers Marije Nije Bijvank, Elly A. Konijn, and Brad J. Bushmanlower observed more than 800 adolescent boys in the Netherlands. The Dutch middle school system divides students into three groups—lower, medium, and higher academic ability—based on their standardized test scores, and the boys in this study were equally divided across those three groups.
The researchers asked the boys about their video game preferences (only three boys out of 833 reported not playing video games at all), measured their levels of aggressive and risk-taking behavior, and assessed their motivations for playing video games.
The results show that boys at the lower academic level preferred violent games significantly more than the boys at the medium or higher levels (there was no difference between those latter two groups). They also had a higher perception of the game as being “real,” and they “wishfully identified” more with video game characters.
Prior research has found that identifying with violent video game characters can increase children’s aggression levels in general. So the results of this study suggest that boys at the lower education level are more at risk for the negative effects of violent video games. The researchers also found that these boys had more aggressive personalities and were more likely to seek out thrills and risky behaviour—in fact, the most aggressive boys in the study were the ones who had low test scores and played violent video games.
The researchers note that these boys also came from families of lower socioeconomic status, and that may contribute to why they’re so drawn to violent games. “By playing violent games these boys may come to believe that aggression is an effective way of solving conflicts and getting what you want in life.”
However, it is important to clarify that the researchers do not argue that video games or low educational performance cause aggression, just that these factors are strongly associated with aggressive behaviour, suggesting that low performing kids are the most at-risk for violence. It is up to future research to determine whether engaging kids in school during their formative years does indeed prevent future aggression, and to explore how to engage boys like Bobby in school before video games become a favourite (and anti-social) outlet.
The researchers suggest that media literacy programs may be one way to protect these at-risk kids from resorting to violence. “These programs could help boys with a lower educational ability make the fuzzy border between possibilities in virtual worlds and the real world clearer. They can help them identify with nonviolent and prosocial heroes in video games, and find more constructive ways to solve interpersonal conflicts.”
These media literacy programs must become part of the teaching repertoire imparted at our teachers’ training programs at Cyril Potter and UG. Teachers and others in the educational establishment must be made aware of the impact of these new video games on their charges. We cannot close our eyes to the reality that children today probably spend more time on these violent games than on their books. Parents must also be involved.