Let’s leave the debating to scientists and lawyers and just do what’s good for kids! Parents can and should manage children’s media and technology consumption better (and we already do know how) – just as they do good hygiene and nutrition.
There are those who claim or imply that violent video gaming increased the Norwegian mass killer’s skill and/or motivation, while others argue that there is no connection whatever either in this specific tragedy, or in general, between violent gaming and violent behavior (see Eric Kain in Forbes). BTW, Breivik himself supposedly said that he deliberately used violent video gaming, believing that it would improve his performing his mission, not only sharpenig his shooting skills, but also blunting his humanity.
Whatever we eventually learn about the actual specifics within Anders Behring Breivik’s mind that tragic day and how it came to be, this yet another instance of a tiresome debate is nevertheless quite central to how we in a civilized society manage the relationship between the mind / brain, learning, environment, and violent behavior. It is a complex relationship because — and this is not controversial — human behavior is ultimately determined by biological potentials that are shaped or triggered by learning, practice, and experience within the environment and that in turn shapes that environment, which includes people and events and media. And there are lessons here for parents raising children, which is what this post is about.
As a doctor expert in the effects of violence on kids and adults, I have no doubt that, in general, violence learned begets violence perpetrated. That does not mean always, and it is truer for some people more than for others, and it also depends on other factors. So causality can be conveniently denied by those who would deny it. I also know from over forty years of practice that for the developing child, environment interacts with biological potentials powerfully: Receiving love is usually better than receiving beatings, and that seeing people loving is usually better than seeing people fighting.
So what does the Norway massacre have to do with raising kids? It should put all parents on notice: You could be raising the future president, doctor, or hero you hope for, or you could be raising a future evil murderer you dread, and what you do can matter, so do what you can. I am sure that little Anders had a family, celebrated holidays, studied in school, and had been known to some as a nice normal boy, even cute, and even had people who loved him. And nobody ever predicted what he would become. But I am also sure that something essential was missing in his upbringing that might have stopped him.
So that brings me to media that are now a pervasive part of kids’ environment. In the past decade or more, I realized that their consumption is out of control in our kids’ lives, and it has often been harming them, sometimes in ways we don’t even know yet we don’t know. I realized that media consumption now fills huge chunks of our children’s environment, that it interacts with them and filters and structures their interactions with others; media we are all enchanted with that create megabillionaires, produced by strangers to sell products; media engaging and seducing, wowing with magical devices, that teens in China even sell their kidneys to possess, media that are altering kids’ brains in ways we are just beginning to appreciate. Media distract parents and kids from normal human interactions, even when there is no violent content.
And I realized how even good smart parents neither realize that they urgently should manage that part of kids’ lives, nor have the confidence that they could actually easily do so with some attention and effort. More parents must grasp that media consumption is a powerful part of their children’s environment that they must and can control better, and they must understand that they do not have to reinvent the wheel nor rely only on short pointers in magazine articles to guide them. The fact is that media often distract parents themselves from good parenting interactions. The facts also are that parents have the home court advantage and can and should manage children’s media better, and that we already know how.
The fact also is tha there IS a comprehensive, coherent, cogent way to think about what, when, and how much media consumption is good for for the developing child. So, late in my career, I undertook to apply that knowledge that I use daily to the digital world with clarity to educate, empower, and enable as many parents as I could to manage media in their kids’ lives. That is where my journey to increase the amount of goodness in our world has taken me thus far: helping parents raise better kids in this digital world and even giving them a real tool, an app. And there are many good resources out there.
So for starters, if you want to know more about my work, learn at MyDigitalFamily and start thinking about raising your children to practice the Golden Rule, take care of themselves, and love others. And there are video games that are good for kids (see Playnormous). You will then discipline yourselves gladly to be doing a little more of what you can to raise children a bit more likely to do good rather than evil, and that can sometimes make all the difference.