Guns, video games, isolation, and mental illness have all been implicated as causal factors in the recent school shooting by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. Intervention initiatives for school shootings, such as arming teachers, or enlisting full time police presence, have been proposed for schools both in the U.S. and Canada without any evidence showing they would keep children safe, and some evidence showing they would to do more harm than good. Prevention initiatives such as improved gun control and video game regulation are now at a Senate level in the U.S. This article will provide readers with historical and current research on the impact of violent media on aggression, report what we already know about past shooters, and propose a number of initiatives for prevention of future mass shootings in our schools and communities.
Historically guns have been used in wars and for societal control, with the occasional personal use of guns for murder of friends or family. Only in the past 20 year have guns been used for a wholly different purpose, for the unsanctified mass killings of strangers. In 1972, the Surgeon General determined there was sufficient research evidence linking aggression to media violence, to release a recommendation to restrict violent media content on television. 40 years later, I am still asked by parents, educators and health professionals, as well as media “Is there sufficient evidence that media violence causes aggression?” I’ve profiled current research showing causality between media violence and aggression in this January 2013 Child Development Series Newsletter, as well as have listed previous studies in the Zone’in Fact Sheet on www.zonein.ca . There is no doubt that aforementioned research indicates violent video game use, and viewing of violent media content, can cause antisocial or aggressive behaviour in some children…but not all children. Considering a who, what, when, where, why and how approach might be helpful when determining inherent video game risk.
Who – consider the child’s developmental and chronological age. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society have issued warnings that children between the ages of 0 and 2 years should not be exposed to any technologies, and those over the age of 2 years should be restricted to 1 – 2 total hours of technology usage per day, including educational technologies use in school. Children younger than 8 years of age cannot discern fantasy from reality, and consequently are in sympathetic, adrenalin charged states (fright, flight, fight) when playing video games. Chronic states of stress are not healthy for young children. Long term immersion in virtual reality can also distort self and other identity formation, creating social and emotional distress.
What – consider intensity of media violence and sexual content. The number of times a child kills while playing a video game is causally related to the intensity of consequent aggression. Rapid fire shooter games are the most popular of all violent video games. Social video games promote social behaviour, and antisocial video games promote antisocial behaviour.
When – consider duration of violent media content exposure. Are video games replacing time previously spent playing with family and friends? Does the child socialize with friends and family, or are they a “loner”? Children who are bullied often feel ostracized, and long to be a part of a group.
Where – consider whether the child’s use of technological devices is supervised e.g. are they allowed technology use in the bedroom, dining room table, car? You may need to lock up all technology during dinner and before bed to curtail unsupervised usage.
Why – consider why the child is using high amounts of violent media content. The average age of a gamer is 30, meaning Dad or an older brother might be hooked on games. Children report the most common reason they use video games is that they are bored or lonely, and have nothing else to do. Make sure children engage in a variety of activities that are healthy and promote socialization.
How – consider multiple platforms and accessibility of violent and sexual media content. When a child is given a cell phone or iPad, they can access just about anything without parental knowledge or consent. Consider violent media exposure at daycare or after school care, as well as unrestricted technology use in school settings.
With all this research showing the potential danger of video game use, particularly with young children, why hasn’t government stepped in to regulate and restrict the use of video games, and guns? While the video game and gun manufacturing industry and lobby groups are strong and formidable forces, which explains some of the dilemma and delay in legislation regarding restriction of use, the problem of mass shooters is complex, and will not be resolved quickly or easily with restrictive measures. Taking a look at the profiles of existing shooters will shed more light on what makes a shooter, which will assist parents, educators, health professionals, government, researchers and technology production manufacturers in implementing effective and efficient control measures.
Katherine S. Newman, author of “Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings” reports that the profile of recent mass shooters was not necessarily one of a loner, but rather of a young man who felt ostracized by a group in which he desperately wanted to fit in. The shooters all made attempts to tell their coveted group what they had planned, but were ignored and not taken seriously, escalating their desire to act. Whether a toddler, child, youth or adult, humans have a need to feel needed. Everyone, no matter what age, should be expected to do one chore per day which is of value to themselves and others. Building self-identity and self-worth is crucial in this day and age of the “Me” generation, and a young adult without identity or worth, either “acts in” and suicides, or “acts out” with aggression.
2). Medicated with prescription psychotropics
80% of shooter were either taking prescribed psychotropic medication, or withdrawing from same. In Canada, one in six children between the ages of 8 and 18 have a diagnosed mental illness, with many on dangerous psychotropic medication (stimulant, sedatives, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, or anti-psychotics). Toxicity psychosis from prescription psychotropic medication is evidenced by suicide and/or violence. Despite the fact that the FDA and Health Canada concur that to date, there are no known biochemical, structural, or genetic cause for mental illness, North America is consumed with what has been termed a “diagnosis and medication mania”. Children aren’t born “sick”, we make them that way. Lack of movement, touch, human connection, and nature, the four critical elements for healthy development and learning, have resulted in a rise in child obesity, developmental delay, learning disorders, behavior disorders, hyperactivity, and aggression. Sedentary, neglected, overstimulated, and medicated, the new millennium child is struggling to survive.
3). Long term exposure to violent media content with probable addiction
90% of video games contain violent content, and 8% of children and youth currently demonstrate an addiction to video games. R. Stickgold et al demonstrated that 7 hour exposure to the video game “Tetras” induced 3 days of visual imagery of falling cubes, even in subjects who had frontal lobe damage and no memory. This fact is striking in not only the permanence of visual imagery, but also the recalling of the visual imagery in the absence of conscious memory. Dr. Andrew Doan, Ophthalmologist and author of “Hooked on Games” reports that the brain is similar to a camera in that it stores visual images, sometimes for years, so parents need to understand that what their children watch will be with them forever.
4). Access to guns
A popular quote is “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, yet people without guns, or people with hunting rifles, don’t become mass shooters. That said, presently there is one gun per person in the U.S. and rapid fire assault rifles are legal in most states. The 21st century is known for its pervasive fear mentality and gun obsessed culture, both of which have proven extremely deadly. While access to guns alone is unlikely to produce a shooter, combine guns with desensitization resulting from excessive exposure to violent media content, a cocktail of psychotropic medications from an early age, along with isolation and decreased socialization, and we are getting closer to the target of a shooter.
What can you do to prevent school shooters? Schools and communities might consider using the Schools Operating Safely – Child behaviour management policy and procedures as a prevention initiative to stop school shooters.
This article was written by Cris Rowan, author of “Virtual Child”, pediatric occupational therapist and biologist who is passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris provides health and education professionals products, workshops, training and consultation to enhance child development and learning.
You can contact Cris at firstname.lastname@example.org, 1888-8zonein, or learn more about her work at www.zonein.ca.
Great episode today. Takes a shot of anhtoer dangerous road in the Facebook swamp.While you people at CE tend to home in on the addictive nature of Facebook and the risk of being found by a predator, this podcast focuses on the direct mistakes teens can make online.I am reminded of an article I read about businesses using Facebook to learn more about potential employees. Among the bad stories was a tale of a high school teacher being fired for posting a party picture she was wearing a pirate hat and looking very drunk.This focuses on the very subject. What the digital natives do online affects who they are. It’s all one massive, text-based role-playing game. These adolescents are building new personae while talking to friends online. They become a completely new person to the strangers who happen to walk down these binary-created streets.If your kids must have an account, encourage them to be real. They don’t need to hide. And, as strange as it is, friend them if necessary.
This is again another outlandish attempt at excusing away the actions of a madman by pointing them out to be a victim. When will parents be held responsible for allowing their children to be exposed damaging media content. As you’ve said, the right often spouts increasing the reliance on firearms in the wake of tragedy. Likewise, you’ve just proven that the left often spouts taking away our second amendment rights in the wake of such tragedies. Having appropriate security in schools is the answer.
Tim, can you expand please on what you mean by “appropriate security”? I curious as to whether there are any studies showing increasing police presense, camera’s, or arming teachers, actually improves student safety.
Chris-I admire your thoughtful reviews. I conducted the assay of the Texas Tower mass murderer, Charles Whitman many years ago, (1966) and discovered in his background (preceded violent videogames) massive suppression of normal play behavior, physical violence in the home, and much more. In the many years since, I have conducted approximately 6000 play histories, from muderers to Nobel Laureates, and have been able to demonstrate the positive contributions of healthy play, particularly early unfettered highly physical developmentally appropriate rough and tumble play as a potential antidote for later “grievance killings”..and more. I will be presenting on play and the brain at Whistler May 1, and hope we might meet and share our information bases, etc.?
Stuart Brown MD
I love your book “Play – How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul” and recommend it to teachers at my workshops. I would love to attend your conference; please respond with info as others might be interested as well.
I’m working in a Northern First Nations community developing what we’ve termed “Creating Sustainable Futures Proposal – Enhancing development and learning” which is comprised of a number of school, daycare/preschool and community initiatives to promote play. Enriched outdoor play space is the theme, especially for kids in the 7-adult age range. We will be not only enhancing the existing playgrounds to build in more vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and social components, but also including outdoor adult gym equipment, picnic tables, and all well lit and under cover! We are proposing destination nature trails with tree houses, fire pits, and resting spots at the end. In school were proposing an indoor play room with climbing frames, hammock swings, and a variety of other equipment to get kids moving. Tread mills in the gyms, and frequent attention-restoration “breaks” so kids can refuel their brains. For the 0-5 yr crowd we’ve developed a plan for what were calling a “Crash-N-Bump” in the hall on Wed. mornings where parents and caregivers can move with their kids through a variety of sensory and motor stations to build core and coordination, as well as enhance attachment between child and parent.
Let me know if you want to know more…and thanks for writing that great book!
You should point out that BC was one of the first jurisdictions to bring video game violence in line with film violence in 2000. This legislation was then abandoned by Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government. Other provinces have considered it as well, but never actually passed legislation.
Steve, can you tell us more about this? I was not aware BC passed this initiative. Do you know who was behind the initiative?
Don’t you really think it is too late. This technology has taken over the so fast that most are totally unaware that the world will never be the same again. How many kids do you see playing outside? Millions are addicted to their electronic devices in and out of the school building. Look at kids getting off a school bus or riding to school. What are they doing? The devices are more addictive than drugs. Where is there any hope to fight against those who are making billions selling all this junk?
Is it too late? Well…8% of 8-18 yr olds have video game and/or pornography addictions. We’ve never in the history of humankind had children with addictions, and are really not equiped to deal with whole families who are addicted. It’s important to note, that the tech addiction is not the problem, but is a symptom of an underlying attachment/relationship issue with the parent. So our job is to reduce the use of tech, but first address the relationship issues in the family.
What worries me is that technology is changing the developing brain, and not in a good way. The job of the brain is to prune neuronal tracks that are not being used, and in tech’s case, the pruning is to the frontal cortex. The brain wires itself to respond to it’s environment. If a child grows up in a loving home with hugs, rough and tumble play, books, outdoor nature…they develop and can learn. Children who are exposed for long durations, especially at a young age, to violent anti-social technologies, kept safely indoors, sedentary, not exposed to nature, neglected by tech addicted parents, not hugged or touched…they develop into anxious, depressed, isolated, overstimulated, aggressive, attention-deficit, learning disabled children who we diagnose with a mental illness and put them on psychotropic medication.
I’m very worried, and do not think that the ways in which we are raising and educating our children with technology are sustainable.
The way out will be long, costly and very sad. I’ve developed a concept termed Balanced Technology Management where adult manage balance between activities children need to grow and succeed, with technology use. Check out the BTM slide show on http://www.zonein.ca (bottom middle of home page, under video clips). It will take a team, of parents, teachers, health professionals, government, researcher, and tech production corporations.
Keep the faith.
Thank you for your research and publishing this article. This is an issue of obvious concern for schools. With your permission, I would like to use your article as a ‘Hand-out’ for our Parent Teacher Meeting which is scheduled for January 15, 2013.
Most certainly! Please pass on any info on blog or my website http://www.zonein.ca. I’m doing three day workshops this year in Vancouver (Feb), Winnipeg (Mar) and San Fran (April) for health and education professionals, and starting with a parent night. Can check it out in workshop section of website.