Grand Theft Childhood the Surprising Truth About Video Games and What Parents Can Do

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In “Grand Theft Childhood,” Professors Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson do a good job of investigating whether violent video games are bad for kids. They present both sides of the argument in an unbiased way. In the early chapters of “Grand Theft Childhood” Kutner and Olson take on the relation between depictions of violence and their effects on child behavior by arguing that amount of crime decreased dramatically during the peak of violent penny gaff viewing in England. Penny gaffs were inexpensive theaters located throughout Europe in the 19th Century (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 34). Giving an example from over 100 years ago demonstrates that graphic representations of violence have been around for a long time, and their effects on children need not be harmful. This was a good example for Kutner and Olson to state up front because it makes clear to the reader that violent shows cannot negatively affect children in all cases, which some people might believe before reading the book. Kutner and Olson next describe the arguments of Henry James Forman in his bestselling book from the early 1930s, “Our Movie Made Children”. Forman showed that many boys who watched violent movies, such as “The Doorway To Hell” and “Me, Gangster,” became violent and were more likely to be thieves and minor delinquents (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 46). This perspective conformed to what many people thought violent films do to children. However, it is not clear how this evidence relates to video games, since “Me, Gangster” was released in 1928 and “The Doorway To Hell” in 1930. Forman’s arguments are so old that their relevance to modern video game violence is vague, since the movies of that era were not in color, had no sound, and did not involve the audience participating in the action. Kutner and Olson move on to argue that “[m]uch of the current research on violent video games is both simplistic and agenda driven” (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 53). They assert that not enough research has been done in this field and therefore the effects of violent images and stories on children are scientifically unclear. Kutner and Olson decided to gather their own data, since much of the research on media violence is outdated and inapplicable to video games. They survived two middle schools consisting of seventh and eight grade students in Pennsylvania (664 participants) and South Carolina (590 participants). They found that 68% of boys and 29% of girls played M-rated games “a lot”. They found that children who played M-rated video games were significantly more likely to play every day and to play more than 15 hour a week (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 92-93). Kutner and Olson also researched the behavior problems of these middle schoolers, a topic on which there had been almost no previous research. It was found that girls who played M rated games were more likely to be involved in seven out of twelve behavior problems. Similarly for boys, six out of the twelve problem behaviors were significantly more likely among children who played mature games (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 96-97). Kutner and Olson do a good job pointing out that these M-rated games might not be causing behavior such as low grades—it might be the exact opposite: kids who are doing poorly in school might find video games fun simply because they can be successful at them (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 99). Kutner and Olson show that a statistically significant relationship exists between video games and some violent behaviors, like fighting. They then say that further research needs to be done to see what is behind such relationships (Kutner and Olson, 2008, 100). While many psychologists might look to blame violent video games for violent childhood behavior, Kutner and Olson remain neutral by simply saying more scientific research has to be done before anything can be said definitively. While their conclusions seem reasonable, their analyses would be more reliable if they had employed more precise terminology in...
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