The Internet Parent
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Violent Video Games Affect Self Control

No Real Doubt Remains After MRI Study

---As reported in a November 29, 2006 InformationWeek article entitled Study: Violent Video Game Exposure Affects Self-Control by K.C. Jones, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity of participants while they performed tasks measuring inhibition and concentration, immediately after playing video games. The researchers documented differences between those who played violent games and those who played non-violent games.

Those who played the violent game showed less activity in an area associated with executive functions such as planning, shifting, and controlling and directing thoughts and behavior, according to researchers. They showed more activity (brightly colored scans) in the amygdala, an area of the brain connected with emotional arousal.

The validity of the study is pretty solid – statistically, it’s compelling data, and the structure of the study is sound. The implications, of course, will be a long time in coming.

Suffice it to say, however, that we now have real-time, visible proof that exposure and immersion into violent video games has a spill-over effect on brain function. How much, for how long, we don’t know. We do know, however, that the brain is a very malleable and plastic thing, and it gets trained.

So if you’re wondering where the short attention span, irritability, or lack of emotional discipline in our children is coming from, maybe we’re one step closer to identifying a culprit.

When we allow our kids to get exposed to any content – through video games, television, or the Internet, we really have to be accountable for the impact it has on them. And the more of that content they absorb, the more impact it’s going to have.

Content comes in all forms now. We live in a media generation. So as parents, we’re called to be more aware, more vigilant. We have to supervise our kids, and modulate their exposure. It’s more work now than ever, because there are more sources of stimulus, and – let’s be honest – they’re much more potent now than ever before.

So while exposure to too much Space Invaders might not warp a mind, murdering a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto, or killing Germans as a sniper in Call of Duty, just might have a lasting effect. And networked games, where players interact with one another, create a level of social re-enforcement that adds to the potency of the experience.

It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to understand the correlation. It may take more studies like this one to round out the theories, but the biochemistry is undeniable.

So what are we going to do about it?

Do your kids overdose on video games? Do they use networked games, and do they interact with friends and/or strangers in their simulated worlds? How much do you know about this part of their lives? Share your experiences.

Kids: 10 is the new 15 - and a much easier target

Predators don't just exist on the Internet...

I read an article by Martha Irvine on MSNBC, entitled 10 the new 15 as Kids Grow Up Faster. It's a great discussion, illustrating how kids are having less and less "protected time" to be kids, and the way that erosion is affecting them and their relationship with their parents.

What's to blame? Well, a whole host of factors, but I think I would sum it up as an invasion of adult strangers into our kids lives. It's not that popular culture is intrinsically bad. But when we let our kids participate without moderation in popular culture, it seems that we feed an inevitable shift to the gutter. Why? Because "pop culture" is distorted by adults who are trying to attract kids.

Think about it. Young people create the most prominent themes in emerging culture. That part is GREAT.

But then, adults who "have an agenda" begin to ride, manipulate, and productize those themes to a) engage and establish relationships with potential customers, and b) make a lot of money.

Without parental protection and oversight, kids will be seduced by the merchandising of their emerging identities. And it's adults that are doing the seducing, using the tools that are most seductive -- sex, music, celebrity, addictions of every sort, and the Internet.

Why do kids fall for it? Because the merchandisers are really good at their game. And because our kids That's why they have parents.

It's our job to "interfere" with that seduction, and to protect them.

Think about it this way: When has the unrestricted interaction of kids with adult strangers ever been a good thing? (See my MySpace posts here and here for more on that topic...) Yet, that's what's happening when kids "buy in" to pop culture. They're absorbing a message that's coming from an adult somewhere, in some faceless company, who is trying capture your child's attention.

Let's just say that predators aren't only on the Internet.

So, don't let it happen. I'm a very strong advocate of parental supervision (especially regarding the Internet) and limiting kids from an unrestricted embrace of pop culture, because those who are animating it and amplifying it do NOT have our kids' best interest in mind.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a prude. I love new music. I love the Internet. I love beauty and creativity in all its forms. And the creativity of youth expresses itself miraculously every day in all these ways.

But we as parents have to remain vigilant and RESPONSIBLE, using all the tools at our disposal to protect our kids, even as those who stand to enrich themselves use every tool at their disposal to exploit them.

Waging your own battle against the invasion of tawdry pop culture? Shocked at the way elementary school "prostit-tots" dress? Dismayed that "bitches and ho's" is the new slang for your daughter and her friends?

Got answers or suggestions? Share your comments.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Free Public WiFi Cuts Both Ways...

Too much of a good thing?

Several municipalities in my neck of the woods, and many others across the globe, are sponsoring, experimenting with, or experiencing an explosion in free wireless Internet access.

Google, the proverbial "Internet Good Guys", have been deploying wireless Internet around the city of Mountain View. The city of Palo Alto, just up the road, has had a free wireless "HotSpot" downtown for almost a year.

And now, as reported by Will Oremus
in the Palo Alto Daily News, a new, broader approach is underway. The association of cities and business leaders throughout Silicon Valley known as Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, has created a model agreement open to some 40 area cities. Silicon Valley Metro Connect, an ad-hoc consortium led by IBM and Cisco, will be the wireless provider.

The result: possibly the largest contiguous wireless Internet "hot spot" in the world -- over 1500 square miles. It will cover most of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, and parts of Alemeda and Santa Cruz counties.

So that's the good news, and represents the kind of social application of technology that we expect from Silicon Valley.

What's the bad news?

Well, if your town has free public WiFi, and you're kid has a laptop and a bicycle, he's now also got unfiltered Internet access. It doesn't much matter what you do to protect the Internet connectivity in your home, if free wireless access is available down the street.

Have you and/or your community leaders engaged in a dialog on the impact of this new kind of community resource?

If you have wireless Internet in your community (and even if you don't!), find a way to bring the discussion of protected, filtered, public Internet access to the fore. When we needed wires, public Internet access was less of an issue, because somebody had to connect you (or your 12-year-old) to the Internet.

But with wireless, it's "Look, hands!"

Contact your local press, and ask about it. Or write a letter to the editor. Your peers in the community might recoil, warning that the local government should not play a role in "censorship". And in the end, they may be right -- ultimately, it's our responsibility as parents and citizens to control the resources that our children use. But even if you just bring awareness to the issue, you will have done your family and your neighbors a great service. Be prepared, though: soon, we'll have to protect each device (that includes our phones and our PDAs -- a topic for another day) because protecting the network will no longer be enough...

And, once again, it becomes clear that we have to reach out and have a dialog with our neighbors and business leaders and community officials to ensure that we're talking about the issues.

It's great that community investments like free wireless Internet enable college students and professionals to access the Internet over their morning coffee, on the commuter train, in the park, or wherever their workday takes them. That's a GOOD thing.

Let's just make sure our community investments also include keeping our kids safe and protected.

Do you have free municipal wireless in your area? How do you feel about it? Has your community engaged in a dialog about the repercussions? Write back and share.