Re-posted from Parentables, where I first wrote this in response to July’s Colorado and Toronto shootings. Sadly, it seems relevant once again.
When my husband tossed down the newspaper on the kitchen counter this weekend, I was stunned at the headlines. (Spending more time online writing than reading means that I’m sometimes a few days behind the news!) So much gun violence here in Toronto and Colorado — it makes me very sad.
When I opened the paper, I found photos, stories of survivors and victims, detailed accounts of attack routes, the killers’ personal histories — it was all there, including one especially unfortunate young woman who narrowly missed last month’s Toronto shooting only to die in Colorado. Then there were the countless speculations as to what might cause a young person to commit such acts of atrocity. Could it be the Colorado shooter’s obsession with role-playing video games? Apparently this was a factor in the Columbine shooting.
I am no expert in psychology and/or gaming, but I do believe that’s there a deep societal disconnect in the way we feel about violence and the way we actually treat it. While fearing violence and telling our kids that it’s wrong, we allow violence to infiltrate our families’ lives. It comes at us from all directions — computer and video games, movies, sports, TV shows, the news. We tell our kids that aggressive behaviour is socially inappropriate, yet it’s everywhere. We’re obsessed with the very thing that we fear most and know to be wrong.
My concern is that by exposing kids to violence on a regular basis, they eventually cease to feel upset by it. Violence becomes normalized in their minds. Initially, a gory video game might have spine-tingling shock value, but that wears off and they’ll crave something even more graphic. Even scarier is how the lines between reality and fantasy can become blurred frighteningly easily. As author and psychologist Daniel Goleman writes in Social Intelligence, “A thing is real if it is real in its consequences. When the brain reacts to imagined scenarios the same way it reacts to real ones, the imaginary has biological consequences.”
I think that if we want violence to decrease in our everyday lives, we need to minimize its potential influences on the next generation. We need to turn off the TV, place limitations on gaming and watching movies, and have real conversations with our kids about these issues. We need to be aware that actions — our own and those of our society in general — send the strongest messages to our kids. Reducing the amount of time our kids spend absorbing pretend violence can only help their emotional states.