A little computer gaming can assist in developing well-adjusted children

GamingIt is a common mantra from adults that “kids spend far too much time playing computer games”, and to the uninformed, killing zombies or driving high-powered cars around fictitious race tracks would seem to offer little contribution to their respective development, indeed some would go so far as to say they have a detrimental impact on young people’s lives and behaviour.

However, a study published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ by scientists from Oxford University has suggested that engaging with video games for a short period each day could contribute in a small, but positive manner to a child’s development.

A sample group of nearly 5000 young people, half male and half female, aged between 10 and 15 years old, drawn from a representative selection of UK households, were surveyed by experimental psychologist Dr. Andrew Przybylski and questioned about how much time, on average, they spent playing console or computer-based games daily. They were then asked questions focusing on how satisfied they were with their lives, their levels of hyperactivity and inattention, their empathy and the quality of their relationships with their peers.

During the study, 75% of the young people questioned indicated that they engaged in screen-based gaming on a daily basis. Interestingly, the research suggested that those who spent more than half of the daily free time playing games are not well adjusted and hypothesised that the reason for this is that they were less likely to get involved in other enriching activities as well as being exposed to content that is inappropriate, designed, as it were, for adult consumption.

The particularly fascinating result within this study, however, suggests that in comparison to children who are non-players and those who are frequent players, those who play games for less than one-third of their daily free time (usually less than one hour) appeared to possess the most developed abilities to socialise and have less friendship and emotional issues. They also reported less hyperactivity than other groups.

Contrary to popular opinion, fuelled by misinformation in the press, Dr. Przybylski suggested that:

“These results support recent laboratory-based experiments that have identified the downsides to playing electronic games. However, high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children's behavioural problems in the real world.”

It was also his opinion, based on the research, that the small positive effects that were observed for the low levels of game play did not necessarily support the suggestion that screen-based games could, by themselves, somehow, assist children’s development in the increasingly technological world.

In concluding Dr. Przybylski encouraged further research to investigate the particular elements of games that may make them either beneficial or harmful. He also suggested that further study should be carried out within the context of children’s social environments, such as their families, friendship groups and wider community and whether these aspects impact on how gaming experiences influence young people.

In my experience as an educator and a parent, I have found that, like with any pastime or hobby, if a child becomes too obsessed with the narrow focus of a particular interest at the expense of other activities, then it can have a negative impact on their development. Think about any kids in your school who are completely consumed by their interest in football, heavy metal music or even their appearance and, I think you will agree that this can occur with anything. The difference with gaming occurs because they are specifically designed using aggressively engaging principles to draw players in and hold their attention for long periods of time. Applied to young people with susceptible minds, who may use gaming as a means of escaping a dysfunctional family environment or a bullying situation, this, in my opinion, can potentially have a serious detrimental impact on their behaviour and development.

In your experience with young people, do you agree with the results of the study? Do you feel that computer games are harmful or beneficial to young people? Does gaming have a place within the formal education arena? We would love to read your comments so please feel free to share them below.

Written by Steve Gresty on August 07, 2014 11:42

'Slenderman' - The 21st century Bogeyman

“If you don’t go to bed, the bogeyman will come and get you!”

“The bogeyman will come after you, if you keep sucking your thumb!”

Did you hear these phrases when you were a child? Maybe they were said to you or your brothers or sisters. They were common traditional phrases used by parents to frighten young children into behaving appropriately or to cajole them into doing what their parents asked them to do. Not exactly politically correct and, in these modern times of high definition, realistically scary characters or monsters in films or games, very unlikely to work.

A few years back, however, a phenomenon appeared on the web that could be considered the modern day ‘bogeyman’, the only difference being that it wasn't parents that invented it, it has appeared as a consequence of youth culture’s fascination with all things horror and ghoulish.

In the summer of 2009, a poster by the user name of “Victor Surge’ contributed two black and white images to the ‘Something Awful’ internet forum. The images depicted groups of children being watched from the shadows by a very tall, thin figure. Surge also added text, purporting to be from eye-witnesses, describing abductions of children. Surge gave the character the name “The Slender Man”

As well as being very tall and thin, the Slender Man had unnaturally long, tentacle-like arms and was usually dressed in a dark suit and tie. It was regarded as male and possessed a white, featureless face, which only added to the creepiness of the character.

The Slender Man captured the web’s collective imagination and, as these things so often do, it soon when viral, spawning online fiction called “Creepypasta”, fan art and cosplay. Inevitably, it wasn’t long before fan-made videos started to appear on the ‘Something Awful’ forums and this only help to feed the rapidly growing ‘mythology’ that was building around the whole phenomenon.

As the web community’s interest in Slenderman grew, the boundaries between fiction and reality blurred, as a consequence of the variety of conflicting online perspectives. This had the effect of obscuring the origins of the character and offered the whole saga an air of authenticity.

In May this year, however, tragically the whole urban legend became something entirely different when two 11 year old Wisconsin girls allegedly lured their friend to woods near their home and repeatedly stabbed her in an act that was apparently carried out “…to impress Slenderman” who, they insisted to investigators, was real.

Shortly after this incident, another took place in Ohio, when a mother came home from work and was attacked by her 13 year old daughter with a kitchen knife, wearing a white mask. During the attack the mother said of her daughter “…it was as if she playing a role, it didn’t feel like her” and afterwards she found some very “dark” writings and drawings created by her daughter referencing Slenderman - she had even created a whole world within the online game ‘Minecraft’, for the character to live in.

This incredible story demonstrates tragically how powerful the influence of the internet can be and how a viral phenomenon can so easily manifest into something that, to vulnerable young minds, can gain authenticity and appear real. It is why it is so important that parents and teachers need to be vigilant and monitor what young people are watching, reading and browsing. It is why films and video games have age-ratings - they are not there as something to snigger at and dismiss, they are there for very good reasons and should be treated seriously.

"There is a point to be made that e-safety education also needs to incorporate digital literacy, with a emphasis on understanding the context and veracity of information on the Internet. That children need to be trained to critically appraise the information they are reading in the same way we would hope to train them to be media aware enough to understand the political bias in a newspaper or the reliability of 'facts'" - E-safety Support

8/9/14 - There is an online game which can be downloaded associated with this urban legend which can be found at www.slendergame.com

Written by Steve Gresty on September 08, 2014 07:55

Online Gaming - Muddying the boundaries between the virtual and real worlds

A few weeks ago an article appeared within my Facebook timeline from an online newspaper I follow. It reported on a young man in Colorado, USA , who was wanted on a drugs charge. He had been chased by the police at high speed and had managed to crash into dozens of other vehicles. He also evaded the police by car-jacking, no less than three other vehicles, one of which was a mother, who was stopped and dragged out of her car whilst the man sped away with her terrified four year old son in the back seat (he was later retrieved frightened and distraught but unharmed when the felon abandoned that car for another).

As I looked down the many, many comments attached to the posting, I was shocked to read postings such as:

“Ha, its just like GTA…” or,

“He’s been playing too much Grand Theft Auto lol!”

What struck me was the casual nature in which people acknowledged an incident that must have been unbelievably traumatic for the mother of the four year-old and the other victims for that matter, even to the point of thinking that it was something to have a bit of a giggle about.

As I read further comments of a similar vein, I started to reflect on whether our now daily engagement with technology is impacting our capacity to differentiate between the real and virtual worlds and whether it is encouraging a worrying trend, with some people, towards insensitive voyeurism; an acceptance that everything on the web is provided for entertainment and an inability to sympathise with a victim.

I then began to consider what impact this phenomena maybe having on young people and this made me think about some experiences I have had in my role as a supply teacher in both primary and secondary schools. Recently, I have noticed how the words ‘rape’ and ‘porn’ appear to have crept into the everyday conversations of young people, even to the point of modifying them with a view to include them in youth culture, as in the word ‘frape’.

Surely, the ‘normalisation’ of these words into our youth vocabulary is not healthy and is contrary to the nurturing environments that adults should be ensuring exist within school and at home. So, how does this happen?

This blurring of the boundaries between reality and cyberspace can manifest itself in much more sinister and darker ways too. A year or so back, I was teaching a Y11 resistant materials class who had a double lesson that spanned over dinner time. A couple of the boys returned to school after spending their dinner at a house of one of the group. As they entered the workshop they were laughing and I overheard one them saying “… it was just like on ‘Fallout’ ”. Thinking that they had been playing video games I asked them about it; however, I was shocked to discover that what they had been watching was a real beheading that had been posted on the internet by a terrorist group. What was equally distressing was how they had viewed this horrific scene, coldly disconnecting the fact that this was a real person from the voyeuristic and trivial ‘entertainment’ the video provided for them. They even likened the event to computer games that they had played to the point of interpreting and reconciling the video as just another scene from a computer game.

As a consequence of the ubiquitous nature of the worldwide web and the type of material that can be accessed, do you think that the real worlds of young people are being dangerously impacted by their cyber worlds? Do you believe that the way in which content is presented such that the difference between the real and the fictional is distinctly vague and blurred, encourages young people to becoming desensitised and numb to real events and situations that, prior to the technological age, would have been genuinely seen as horrific, upsetting or gruesome?

Or do you believe that the impact of the web is no different to the influence on youth culture of radio and television in the post-war 20th century and it is inevitable that media will affect the language and behaviour of young people?

To let us know your opinion is on this important topic, please use the comments section below. There are also a number of related lesson plans and assembly plans available from E-safety Support

Written by Steve Gresty on April 29, 2014 09:15


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