Posts Tagged ‘ Newtown shooting ’

Does Playing Violent Video Games Cause Violence?

Friday, January 25th, 2013

This seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer. Here’s why.

There are studies that report links between playing video games with violent content and measures of aggression. Many of these studies show small statistical associations – meaning that it is not highly predictive of aggressive behavior. In addition, many focus on kids’ self-reports of their own aggressive behavior. While this is one valid way of measuring aggression, it is not the only way – which limits the take-home messages from these studies. And we all know that “association” (or correlation) is not the same thing as causation.

Consider a recent well-designed study published in Developmental Psychology. The study authors reported that teen accounts of their frequency of playing violent video games were predictive of increases in their self-reported aggressive behavior over time. There were a number of statistical and measurement controls to ensure that this prediction was not due to “selection effects” – meaning that kids with higher levels of aggression at the start of the study were more drawn to violent video games – or the impact of other factors. But while this study provides evidence of a predictive link between playing violent video games and self-reported aggression, it doesn’t give us the answer to the question many of us are asking now. Why not? Simply put, this study did not focus on violence, especially the type of extreme violence we are witnessing such as school shootings.

Here’s the bigger issue. Many kids play video games. Large percentages, at some point in time, play games with some violent content. Very few kids turn into mass murderers. Simply sorting through large samples of kids and trying to use statistical models to find the linkage between violent video game content to find the type of prediction we are looking for will be a daunting task. Indeed, after decades of research we are just seeing reports – like the one published in Developmental Psychology – that are providing clearer evidence of links between playing violent video games and aggression (which is a much more frequent behavior to study).

So where do we go from here?

Of course more research is necessary. But we have to think hard about the type of research we need – and the question we are asking. If we want to know more about aggression, there is a large platform from prior studies that can be built upon to provide better estimates of the impact of playing violent video games. This is certainly an area worth researching. This approach, however, won’t tell us much about violent behavior such as a mass shooting. We need new paradigms that can lay out other predisposing factors to violence – in terms of personality, social development, mental health – and large enough samples that can begin to explore if kids with these characteristics (many of which still need to be explicated) are more unduly influenced by playing violent video games. We also need to ask if it makes a difference if they have access to guns. We need to be willing to commit to an open-minded public health framework that will take on mental health, access to guns, and violent video game content in a comprehensive way if we are going to make any real headway. And, as always, this will need to be funded. Until all of this happens, we will not have a simple answer to the simple question we are asking.

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How Safe Is Your Child’s School? Another Public Health Issue In the Aftermath Of The Sandy Hook Shooting

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, this is a question we all have. But, in reality, it is a very difficult one to answer. So, to that end, here are some questions to ponder as we all think about how we can improve school safety. Or put another way – here are some questions for parents to consider about their child’s school.

What is your school’s policy concerning entry? Are multiple doors open during the day? Can anyone walk into the school unattended? Is there a locked door and a buzz-in procedure? Depending on your answers to these questions, should your child’s school reconsider their existing policies?

Do you know how prepared your school is in case someone enters? What procedures are in place? Are these common knowledge? Has the school shared their system with parents?

Does your school currently utilize armed guards? How do you feel about this? If your school doesn’t do this (and most don’t) – would you feel better if they did? Is your school having an active dialogue about this topic?

We all have an adaptive tendency to get back to our daily lives after a tragedy. Sandy Hook Elementary has resumed classes in a different school building. But although we move ahead, it’s really important that we keep the conversation going about school safety – and that parents make sure they have a voice and partner with their child’s school to have thoughtful discussions about the lessons learned. The most sobering one is that even in the case of a school with extreme precautions and a very well trained (and heroic) faculty and staff, schools are always going to be a vulnerable place. That said, we all know now that we need to do everything we can to make them as safe as possible.

For other recent thoughts on the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, see the following links:

Mental Health as a Public Health Issue

Gun Control as a Public Health Issue

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The Sandy Hook Shooting: The 4 Public Health Topics We Will Be Discussing In 2013

Monday, December 31st, 2012

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, we all struggle to figure out how we can try to prevent further rampages, particularly (but not exclusively) in schools. There are 4 topics which are receiving the most attention – and will be the center of many debates in 2013. Starting on January 2nd, I will take these on, from the lens of public health – meaning I will examine each in terms of the potential of making life safer for kids in school. The topics are: 

Mental Health: One viewpoint is that increases in mental health awareness, improvements in diagnosis, and reducing barriers to treatment will be key in preventing further mass murders. While there is clearly a need to invest in mental health in our country, how central should mental health issues be in the debates following the Sandy Hook shooting? Is mental health the fundamental concern – or is it getting overplayed in lieu of taking on ….

Gun Regulation: Another viewpoint is that our primary objective should be immediate increases in gun regulation as the fundamental way of preventing future tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting. The argument here is that the type of weapons that are available in this country facilitate the rapid execution of many youth. Those who disagree argue that mental health issues trump the access of firearms. So, from the public health perspective, is there an answer to be found?

School Safety: One thing is certain – we all feel the need to make our schools safer. Some schools in the country already had armed personnel in place prior to the Sandy Hook shooting. Should all schools do this? As a parent, would you feel better, or worse, seeing armed guards at your kid’s school? And what impact might this have on the kids themselves?

Violent Video Games: Still on the radar is the issue of violent video games. Do they really make individuals more violent? Should they be banned? What is the scientific evidence?

First up: the Mental Health debate on January 2, 2013.

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The Sandy Hook Tragedy: Dealing With Your Own Anxiety As A Parent

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Child Getting on a School BusIn the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we rightfully consider how we should talk to our kids, and help them feel safe and secure as they get back to their school routines this week. But what about us parents?

I would think that nearly every parent had a knot in their stomach as they prepared to send their kids off to school today. This tragedy has upped our anxiety as parents for a number of reasons, including:

  • Sandy Hook Elementary had a stringent security system in place – making us feel powerless.
  • This particular shooting has additional gravity because of the age of the kids involved, as it reinforces how vulnerable our kids are out in the world.
  • In the aftermath of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, this rampage may end up representing a tipping point for parents, in which we begin to think that these horrific tragedies involving youths (and adults) are not as rare as we’d like to believe.

So how do we go back to our typical day today? The biggest thing I have to latch onto is the extraordinary bravery shown by the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary. As we hear more about their quick thinking and actions, it reminds us that teachers don’t treat teaching like it’s just a job. They feel responsible for the kids under their care. Even more than that, they will put themselves in harm’s way, and even give their life for your child. That’s a pretty powerful thing to think about.

It may also help you to talk to someone at your kid’s school. Many schools will be sending out communications. Vigilance will be extraordinary. Reassuring yourself that your school is reviewing their security policies and their action plans will help you reduce your anxiety some.

Look, this latest tragedy is going to hurt for a long, long time. Parents are going to be anxious for a long time as well. But knowing that your teachers and administrators treat your kids like they are their own kids can at least help us take a deep breath when our kids are in school.

For information and resources on dealing with the tragedy, visit the following on

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