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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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December112006

Should Schools Teach Responsible Gaming?

A national watchdog group has just published a report card on efforts to protect kids from the effects of violent video games. While progress is being made, there are still serious shortfalls - which raises the question of what role schools should play in the process.

The National Institute on Media and the Family released its 11th annual video game report card just as millions of parents are being inundated with requests for the latest gaming consoles. (As for my opinion in the Wii vs. PS3 debate, sorry folks, I won’t bite.) The report takes a look at how well different groups are doing at doing their fair share in protecting kids. In some areas, they state there’s been improvement. For example, major retail chains appear to be taking video ratings more seriously, carding kids and preventing them from purchasing games that are more appropriate for mature audiences. (Specialty stores, in contrast, get a failing grade in this regard.) But the most telling piece of the report is the role that parents are playing - or perhaps more accurately, the role they’re not playing.

For the second year in a row, the researchers noted what they found to be “an alarming gap between what kids say about the role of video games in their lives and what parents are willing to admit.” As part of their research, they asked parents and their children a series of questions about video games and communicated about their use. The results are striking. For example, while only five percent of parents say they have never had a conversation with their kids about video games, just over 50 percent of children said they’d never had that conversation. In other words, a large number of parents feel they’ve had conversations with their kids about gaming, while they kids don’t seem to recall these conversations.

Similarly, while only 10 percent of parents admitted that their kids never had to ask permission to play certain games, approximately 40 percent of kids said they never had to ask permission. Parents and kids also have very different understandings when it comes to rules concerning video games. More than six in 10 parents said they had rules regarding when their children play games and for how long. When asked if there were indeed such rules, less than four in 10 kids said yes. Parents also underestimate the amount of time their kids play games each week. On average, parents guessed their kids were gaming five hours a week. As far as girls are concerned, they’re close - six hours. Boys, meanwhile, average 13 hours a week - nearly three times the parental estimate.

According to the researchers,

These findings, and the gap between them, are basically identical to the national averages found in other studies. This suggests that parents may provide overly optimistic responses about their awareness of children’s video game habits and their use of the ratings. This parental optimism is very unfortunate, because parents are in an extremely powerful position to make a difference in their children’s outcomes. Parents who are actively involved in their children’s media habits have children who spend less time playing video games each week, get better grades in school, are less likely to be overweight, are less aggressive, are more prosocial, and have fewer attention problems in school. Active parental monitoring of children’s media use appears to be a clear protective factor for children.

Because of this gap, the report card assigns an “incomplete” grade to parents:

Although the response of most parents to the challenge of raising kids in a world filled with video games is inadequate, it doesn’t seem fair to give parents a failing grade because parents are constantly subject to mixed messages from the video game industry. While representatives of the industry encourage parents to follow the ratings which warn certain age groups away from mature content, they simultaneously deny that video games have any impact on kids. Making matters worse, the rating system itself has flaws. Parents could be, and should be, doing a lot better, but at least part of their failure can be attributed to the confusion created by the game makers.

The report offers several specific recommendations for alleviating these problems, including revamping the current system to make it independent of the game manufacturers, and finding more opportunities to educate parents. They suggest, as other online safety experts have advocated, that kids’ bedrooms should be “media-free zones,” implying that computers and gaming consoles should be located in a public space within the house. The researchers encourage parents to be more observant of games’ ratings and use parental controls to block access to certain games. Parents should also become more engaged in their childrens’ media consumption, watching what they watch and playing what they play so they can have a first-hand perspective.

All of these suggestions strike me as reasonable, common-sense advice, but there’s one thing I keep noticing while reading the report. Schools are barely mentioned, except in the context of discussing the effects of heavy game play on grades and on-campus aggression. Given the fact that various research suggests that video games can have an impact on student performance, it raises the question of how schools should be involved in educating kids. To be honest, though, I’m not sure exactly what this process would look like. Gaming education has traditionally been left to the parents, but the report suggests this isn’t working very well. But in today’s testing-focused classroom, are there any serious opportunities for gaming-related media literacy to be taught? Should schools step in because parents aren’t stepping up to the plate? If so, what do you think they should be doing? And if not, why not? -andy

Filed under : Policy, Research

Responses

Is the link to lower grades due to media exposure or lack of parental exposure? It seems as if the issue is not gaming literacy, but actually familial literacy. Actively involved parents are “a clear protective factor for children.”

I have students whose concept of gaming is to roam the streets at all hours and to get in fights with other groups roaming the streets. Their grades suffer too.

I have other students now playing the game of parenthood themselves. Their grades are suffering and they are likely to pass it on to their children.

I am not sure what the answer is, but neither am I sure what the problem is.

Schools should not be involved with video games at all except for what is taking place on school computers. In most schools there is an acceptable use policy in place that would cover this.

It is to much to ask a school to monitor every aspect of a childs life whether it impacts education or not. Schools have been given the responsability for so many things that happen outside of teaching and learning already. With every new problem that arises with children in society we always get around to the question, “What role does the school have in this issue?”. I say enough already. Teachers and administrators are already spread thin enough. Lets start laying the responsability and expectation back where it belongs. With parents.

It seems that, like most surveys, the collected information is unreliable if such a huge gap exists between parents’ and kids’ answers. Most scientific studies have found no link between violent video games and violent bahavior, so whats all the fuss? As long as they do their homework, etc, its entertainment.

I think that you cannot micro-manage every child’s life from school. What you can do as a teacher though is be aware of the sorts of experiences our children are involved with.

From just my first term with my new class this year I have realised that their technological lives have moved on and unless we: teachers, schools, authorities make a bigger effort to listen to them and take their viewpoint into consideration in terms of technology, their cultural experiences in school will be markedly different to what they have at home.

So should we teach them responsible gaming, yes. Should we teach them responsible use of the internet, yes. Should we be the ones who show them the great possibilities and opportunities available to them in this world and how these are enhanced by technology, yes.

Should school be like home, of course not - but I think we have an important role in ensuring we understand what technology means to our school’s children.

Tom

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