High school violence has been in the news again. At last count there have been three incidents in the news in this past week. To make it all the more shocking, one of those incidents involved middle school children. Seventh grade to be exact, which means the average age of the students involved, was eleven or twelve years old.
Why is this happening? I don’t believe we can point the finger at just one ingredient in the soup that causes our children to attack each other and their teachers. I believe it is a combination of ingredients that has brought the soup to the boiling point. I also believe that unless we take steps quickly to rectify these root causes, we can expect to see more and more of the violence we are seeing now. It is most certainly, a cry for help.
In a series of four articles, I will be addressing what I feel to be the major precipitators of teen violence in our schools. Not the least of these four factors is the constant use of violent video games.
In order to understand how our children are affected by violence you must first understand how the brain works. The human brain is like a giant computer. It is a tool we use and learn to master so that we can function in the world and survive. It collects volumes of information. Anything we experience or do or say or hear or feel is collected in the brain and filed for future use. When we need them, these “saved" files will open up and allow us to choose the option that will facilitate the situation we are in at the moment.
For example: We are not born knowing how to use the stove. We learn this information. All the information about how to turn the stove on and how to use it is filed away. If we burn our finger on a stove, that information is stored also and when we use the stove in the future we don’t ever need to touch the burner again to understand it can hurt us. The file on “burning your finger on the stove" has opened automatically, without much conscious thought on our part.
Each time we are faced with a problem or situation, the brain pulls up any option file we have stored and opens it for us. Our job is to choose which option best solves the problem and put that information into use. Enter video games.
When you play a video game, whether it is violent or not, there is always a goal to the game and of course we play games to try to win them. If we play a new game for the first time, we must learn what steps we need to take to win them. We are looking for and storing the information we need to succeed at that game. This is as perfect an example as I have ever seen of goal setting and chunking down the goal into smaller doable steps until we reach our ultimate goal.
What is damaging about violent video games is the fact there is always an enemy. You come face to face with an opponent that wants to beat you, even kill you, to keep you from winning the game. That opponent is usually heavily armed with weapons or has the advantage of magical powers that forces you to find the solutions that will defeat him. You must go through different levels of the game to earn weapons and powers that are equal to his and gather them for your use.
Your enemy usually has one weakness that given the right circumstances you can exploit and kill him before he kills you. Sometimes these games take weeks or months to conquer. They require repeated playing and long term use to reach different levels of expertise before you can meet and destroy your enemy.
Notice what is happening here. Every time you play that game you are setting a goal, breaking it down into smaller more doable steps until you achieved the parts necessary to attain the goal. In violent video games this involves how and where you will get your weapons, how and where you will meet the enemy and knowledge of exactly what you must do to eliminate him.
In each incidence of high school violence there is a perceived enemy. A person or persons that the child felt was attacking him or his group. This is usually a bully or a group of bullies that heap humiliation and rejection on a specific child or group of children. That person or persons then becomes the enemy. Why? Because the recognizable perception of the brain is that it is being attacked. Why? Because repeated use of violent video games on a sometimes daily basis has reinforced in the brain that anyone that becomes a threat to winning the game is an enemy and needs to be eliminated.
All that target child wants to do is eliminate the humiliation or attack and the brain opens the options files it has stored. Now the game begins on a real life level. Guess which files are opening to provide the solution to the problem.
In each incidence of high school violence there have been complicated and detailed plans with which the students intend to achieve their goals. There have been huge roadblocks that they had to overcome such as securing weapons, making and testing explosives and calculated timing. This is exactly what they have learned how to do on violent video games. Each time they play a violent video game the lesson becomes more and more ingrained in their minds and each time they play they get better and better at overcoming obstacles in their way.
In fact I will go so far as so say that violent video games are training grounds for planning and executing complicated strategically advanced war games. Unfortunately the battleground is our high schools.
Kids are just naturally gamers. They like to entertain themselves and they like the feeling they get when they conquer some complicated game and win. It is a feeling of great accomplishment and rightly so, these games are not easy to win. It takes repeated play to rise to the next level and great intelligence to figure out how to beat the system.
The biggest problem is that when the brain opens the solution files to this kind of problem, there are not enough option files to choose from. As parents and educators we are not giving our children the life skills to know how to deal with perceived attacks, bullies or humiliation. Again, social acceptance is extremely important to middle and high school children. This is where they begin to “lock in" their perception of their social standing for life.
If we did give our teens the life skills and tools to be able to handle these problems by responding to it instead of reacting to it, the brain would have more files to choose from when a situation arose. Unfortunately, we are not giving them the tools and skills they need to store away for future use.
Life is more complicated now. We are all busy. It takes both parents working in a household to provide for the family. Single parents are stretched to the max just trying to make ends meet. Schools are overcrowded and curriculums are poor, if not miserable. It is hard to get around to luxury classes like Life Sciences when your math and English curriculums are substandard. These statements are all true, but there is no excuse for not teaching what needs to be taught.
We are not giving our children the information they need to make other choices or have other options to their problems. In their limited life experience all they have to rely on for problem solving is what they have been taught. Violent video games are quickly becoming a lesson well learned.
There is a vital need for life skills such as values, ethics, boundaries, problem solving and decision making to be taught in our schools. There is a desperate need to institute social acceptance and tolerance programs and bullying needs to be stamped out altogether.
Unless we address this, expect to see more violence on a grander scale from our kids. Columbine, Red Lake, Riverton and North Pole are all examples of a cry for help from our youth. Unless we teach them a better way and supple them with more options to choose from, we are failing an entire generation.
Jeanne Webster CPC is a professional life skills coach that niches in teen, parent/teen and young adult issues. She is a speaaker, columnist and author of the two time national award winning book, “If You Could Be Anything, What Would You Be? For more information on life skills or your free “Brain Pain Report" visit http://www.youcouldbeanything.com .
For more info on her high school curriculum or juvenile justice systems material visit http://www.beanythingprogram.com