Video Games and Bullying

Marybeth Hicks

4/20/2011 9:57:00 AM - Marybeth Hicks

A month ago, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a summit to focus attention on the national bullying crisis.

Convened at the White House by the U.S. Department of Education, the forum was meant to draw attention to national, state and local efforts to curb the growing problem of bullying among children and teens that too often has resulted in pain, violence and even a rash of suicides attributed to long-term peer abuse.

At the forum, Mr. Obama revealed that his big ears were, in childhood, a source of teasing and humiliation. He acknowledged the difficulty of being perceived as different from others, especially during the formative middle school years. He called on all adults to consider the role they play in ensuring a safer environment for children.

The summit elevated awareness of our nation’s dire bullying problem, but it won’t accomplish much because no one seems to want to address the root of the problem.

The increase of bullying has been well-documented. In its 2010 survey of 40,000-plus teenagers, the Josephson Institute on Ethics for the first time asked teens about their experiences with bullying. Fifty percent of the students surveyed admitted that they had bullied others, and 47 percent said they had been the victims of bullying.

This means bullying isn’t the exception to the rule anymore; it’s simply a standard of behavior that about half of all children have grown to expect and exhibit.

Solutions to the bullying crisis come mostly in the form of school-based empathy training and diversity education, promoted most fervently by the gay-rights lobby, which has rallied around the issue of bullying as a means to promote gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths and, more so, the gay-rights agenda.

But none of these so-called solutions gets to the heart of the problem, namely, the hearts of our children. It’s clear that our nation’s children are not being raised for goodness or strong moral character.

I don’t wonder why, when this is what we know about our children: A disturbing study about the use and effects of violent video games indicates that children’s exposure to violent video games over time can impede the development of empathy and sympathy for others.

A study by researchers at Simmons College published in the 2011 spring/summer edition of Journal of Children and Media looked at the development of moral reasoning among children ages 7 to 15 and found that children who play violent video games believe that some forms of violence are acceptable or even right.

Parents and other adults who defend violent video games like to point out that simply playing such games doesn’t mean all children will go out and commit acts of violence, and that millions of people play such games and never exhibit violent behavior. True.

This study, however, is about the attitudes of our children. The Simmons College study says moral reasoning is based on understanding the perspectives of others, but violent video games provide no perspective on the suffering of victims and, in fact, they impede this crucial developmental step.

Seventy-one percent of the games played by the children in the study contained at least some mild violence, while 25 percent included intense violence, blood and gore. In fact, the study found that children ages 7 to 12 routinely play games rated M for mature audiences.

When I’ve written in the past about the effects of violent video games on the hearts and characters of our nation’s children, I’ve received a rash of abusive, vulgar and vitriolic email from gamers, which only proves my point. The games must have some effect.

I’ll just hit the delete button on those messages and say this: Parents, see what games are in your child’s Xbox or PS3 and ask yourself whether the content of those games reflects the values you want to instill in your child’s heart.

If not, why are they playing them?