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Health & Parenting

Video Games and TV: Do They Make Kids Smarter?

An author makes a case that popular culture is beneficial for the mind.
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Of Violence and Video Games continued...

Johnson adds, "perhaps we should be wondering if violent games 'reduce' violent crime, by letting people vent their violent feelings in a virtual environment, and not in the real world."

In his book, Johnson points out that ultraviolent games are the exception, not the rule. "If you look at the bestseller lists month after month, you'll find that the great majority of the games are nonviolent, whether they're simulation games like The Sims (the most popular of all time), or sports games, or Dungeons and Dragons-like quest games," he says. "Grand Theft Auto got a huge amount of coverage for its violent content, but it was an anomaly and most parents out there simply aren't aware of that."

Evaluating Video Games for Kids

In Grand Theft Auto, the player takes on the role of criminal and typically rises in the ranks of organized crime over the course of the game. Scenarios may include bank robberies, assassinations, and gang warfare.

Parents should "evaluate the shows and games not just in terms of violence or obscenity, but in terms of the mental engagement that they require," he says.

Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Robert Butterworth, PhD, agrees. "Boys need to slay dragons and play games with action figures of cowboys and Indians," he says. "They need to be in a fantasy where they are conquering heroes; suppressing this may have long-term effects that may not be good."

Butterworth tells WebMD that his 20-year-old son, now a vegetarian and a student at the University of California at Berkley, was an avid video game player. "He is a cool kid, an athlete and doesn't get into trouble." So there!

Broken homes, exposure to violence, video games, and TV do not create violent children, he says. According to Butterworth, dysfunctional parenting, children with little guilt, and accessibility to firearms with little parental supervision can create violent children.

"Most children who commit violent crime show an early combination of personality and family factors that include having trouble getting along with playmates in preschool," Butterworth says. "By second or third grade they're doing poorly in school, and have few friends. By the age of 10 they're picking fights and getting labeled by their peers as social outcasts."

What's more "they typically come from families where parents are poor at disciplining because they are either indifferent, neglectful, too coercive or they use harsh physical punishment with little love."

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