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Video Games and TV: Do They Make Kids Smarter?

An author makes a case that popular culture is beneficial for the mind.

Evaluating Video Games for Kids continued...

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."

The Other Side of the Fence

"The disservice is that [Johnson's] message is confusing people," says Joanne Cantor, PhD, professor emerita of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of the books Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them and Teddy's TV Troubles.

"When parents hear this and know that their kids like the stuff, they are more likely to say 'some people think it's good, so maybe it's not so bad,'" she says. But it is.

"There is also evidence that some people have a better chance to control their weight if they smoke, but at what cost?" she quips. "If you have to take content you know is harmful to children to get these benefits, then they are not benefits."

Parents should look at ratings in advance and get a description of what a game, TV show or movie is like before they let their kids see it, she says. "Talk to other parents and if necessary, play the game," she says. "The thing about video games is that they all start at lower levels and you have to play for hours to get to a bad part and parents should know that too."

We have to recognize that our children are growing up in a more sophisticated world, for better or for worse. How we help guide them through it remains the challenge.

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