Video Culture

Tue, 09/23/2008 - 10:19am
By: The Citizen

By Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
Special to The Citizen

A study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project was released this month that showed nearly all children play video games.  As the story was reported in many news outlets, the conclusion was that these children were not the loners and social outcasts as they have often been portrayed to be.  They are very “social people” one researcher was reported as saying.

I’m a little frustrated by the media’s presentation of this study because anything that applies to “all” children is so general it has little value.  Likewise, this type of presentation leaves the impression that there is a cause and effect relationship between these two variables – playing video games and sociability.  In other words, it implies that because these kids play video games, they are, therefore, social.  It is never that simple.  This kind of research is called correlational research and correlations never prove cause and effect. 
Think of it like this.  Suppose we looked at the fact that almost 100% of U.S. children go to school.  Likewise, of those kids who go to school, almost 100% of them play video games.  We could tabulate a correlation that would demonstrate the degree of relationship between these two variables – school attendance and playing video games.  This doesn’t mean that going to school caused children to play video games nor would it mean that playing video games caused children to go to school.  To allege either as cause and effect wouldn’t make any sense.  They are simply variables that are related.
All kinds of things have been shown to be correlated.  For example, you may have heard a public service announcement on TV or the radio that says families who eat supper together are less likely to have children who use drugs in their teen years.  This is a true statement, but it doesn’t mean that eating dinner causes teens to avoid drugs.
People are very complex and rarely can we reduce cause and effect to single variables.  In the example above, I’m not suggesting that eating dinner as a family is a bad thing.  On the contrary, it is a great idea.  But one has to ask, “What kind of families eat together every night?”  “What other things do they do?”  We might suppose that there is a type of family dynamic where the family is more likely to eat together and it is this type of family dynamic, not just eating together, that makes drug use less likely among their teens. 
These families are more likely to take vacations together, to have open and healthy channels of communication, to enjoy each other’s company, and a host of other healthy systemic functions.  These dynamics make it more likely that they will do all kinds of things together, including eating supper together, and it is this dynamic, not eating supper, that leads to lessened drug use.

A quick perusal of my articles over the past 15 years would demonstrate that I’m personally not a big fan of TV or video games, especially in children’s bedrooms, in part because it isolates them.  But I concede that many people find TV and video games entertaining and current research indicates that many children do, in fact, play games together and socialize while they play. 
We live in a video/electronic culture and I appreciate the amazing technology in today’s games.  It isn’t the medium that is the problem.  It is how you use it.  I’m far more concerned about how much time a child spends at the computer, on the Internet, in front of the TV, or playing video games than I am about whether or not he spends any time at all with these media.  The child needs exercise, time with family, outside play, reading, and hobby development.  If the child’s life is balanced, so what if 100% of all children play video games?
Be cautious of the data you see in the media.  As far as TV and video games are concerned, balance your child’s time with electronic media with other activities like reading, human interaction, and outside activity.  Video fun is like ice cream – a little is great, but don’t make a meal of it.

login to post comments