During a recent lunch with a respected educator in the area, I learned a few things about some frightening trends regarding suicide among young people. He had just attended a regional seminar in which an noted psychologist talked to the group of educators about the growing threat of suicide among young people. The expert indicated that the risk for suicide among young people has been increasing dramatically, and that there is reason to believe that violent video games are one factor (of many) in this trend. She noted that graphic video games teach people the actions needed to kill, including actions that can help you kill yourself, and the training appears to be taking a toll.
Another deadly trend it the “hanging game” that has become popular among some groups of kids. This has resulted in death that may appear to be suicide, when it was not intended.
Parents, be aware of the growing risk of suicide among American children. Here is an excerpt of a story about a recent study by the CDC:
Sept. 6, 2007 — There is a sharp rise in suicides across the board in teens, says the CDC.
They are up 76% in girls aged 10-14, up 32% in girls aged 15-19, and up 9% in boys aged 15-19. It’s the biggest spike in 15 years, the CDC’s latest teen-suicide statistics show.
“This is a dramatic and huge increase” in pre-teen and teen suicide, Ileana Arias, PhD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said at a news conference. “We are seeing this increase in significantly younger Americans than we have seen in the past.”
The data cover the year 2004, the latest year for which numbers are available. The CDC collects the information from death certificates. Because coroners and medical examiners don’t always have enough information to conclude that a death was a suicide, the actual number of suicides is likely to be higher than the official number.
The new numbers reverse a decade-long downward trend in teen and youth suicide. It’s too soon to know whether 2004 was an unusual year, or whether it marks the beginning of an upward trend. But the data suggest disturbing changes.
One disturbing change is the uptick in girls and young women committing suicide. The other disturbing change is that hanging or asphyxiation is becoming much more common — particularly among 10- to 14-year-old girls.
The rate of suicide by hanging/asphyxiation more than doubled to 68 per 1,000 girls aged 10 to 14. Since 1990, when the CDC began keeping records, this rate was never higher than 35 per 1,000 girls in the same age group.
It’s possible that this new trend toward hanging and asphyxiation is linked to a choking game that has recently become popular among schoolchildren.
As its name implies, the “game” usually involves using the hands, rope, or fabric to choke another child until he or she loses consciousness. The payoffs appear to be the brief “high” achieved during the loss and regain of oxygen to the brain, and the amusement derived from seeing a peer become disoriented.
In addition to peer influence spreading something so stupid and harmful as the “hanging game,” suicide by shooting and other forms of violence may have some connection to all the graphic violence that we allow our kids to revel in.
Link Between Suicide and Video Games?
Many studies point to some kind of relationship between exposure to violent media and violent behavior, so I would not be surprised if there is a link between suicide and violent video games and movies. But such a link will be difficult to prove conclusively, especially in the minds of those who are hooked and see nothing wrong with a few hours of graphic mayhem. I am not saying that playing popular violent games will turn your child into a murderer or victim of suicide. But I dare say that it’s more likely to hurt than help. And I dare suggest that parents should be concerned about what all this training in violence might do. For support, here is an excerpt from the PBS.org article, “Do You Know What Video Games Your Children Are Playing?” by Pamela Eakes:
[P]arents may not know that the content of certain games could affect the social and emotional development of their child, and may even be hazardous to children’s health.
Violence is the most prevalent health risk for children and adolescents. Homicide, suicide and accidents are the top causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. Each year, more than 150,000 adolescents are arrested for violent crimes; more than 300,000 are seriously assaulted; and 3,500 are murdered. Violence done to and by America’s young people is a public health emergency that must be addressed by parents, physicians and policymakers.
More than 3,500 research studies have examined the association between media violence and violent behavior. All but 18 of the studies have shown that the more violence one sees, the more likely one is to be violent. According to the AAP, depictions of violence that are realistic, portrayed without pain and suffering, and experienced in the context of good feelings are more likely to be emulated.
On April 20, 1999, two heavily armed adolescent boys walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and shot 12 of their classmates and a teacher to death. Then they killed themselves. When authorities investigated, they discovered that the boys had played thousands of hours of a “first-person shooter” video game that had been modified to occur in a layout identical to that of their high school, with yearbook pictures electronically pasted onto the game’s imaginary victims. What led these boys to deliberately kill their fellow students is complicated and no single reason has been identified as the cause.
One of the questions parents asked after the Columbine shooting was: “How could it be that the parents did not know their children were playing such heinous video games?” The answer is that parents are not familiar with video games because they don’t play them.
Parents don’t know that video games that have a mature rating may contain content that is entirely inappropriate for children under the age of 17. They don’t know that a child playing an M-rated game can actively participate in the simulated murder of police officers, women, minorities and innocent bystanders. These acts are graphically depicted and include victims being shot, beaten to death, decapitated, burned alive and urinated on. These games may also present favorable depictions of prostitution, racism, misogyny and drug use.
Parents do know that children learn by observing, imitating what they observe, and acting on the world around them. According to child psychologist Michael Rich, children develop what psychologists call “behavioral scripts.” They interpret their experiences and respond to others using those scripts.
One can easily see how repeated exposure to violent behavioral scripts can lead to increased feelings of hostility, expectation that others will behave aggressively, desensitization to the pain of others, and an increased likelihood of interacting and responding to others with violence.
“No Way! This is All Garbage – Video Games ARE NOT Harmful”
That’s the typical response from video game buffs when told that the games may be affecting their behavior. What I think they really mean is this: “Video games causing rude and violent behavior? That is such a ##@&*! lie, you jerk – I’m going to break your face if you say it again.” But for those not immune to facts, there are some significant scholarly studies pointing to good reasons for parents to be concerned. Here is an excerpt from an April 2007 story in EurakAlert.org:
Psychologists publish 3 new studies on violent video game effects on youths
New research by Iowa State University psychologists provides more concrete evidence of the adverse effects of violent video game exposure on the behavior of children and adolescents.
ISU Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson, Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile, and doctoral student Katherine Buckley share the results of three new studies in their book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents (Oxford University Press, 2007). It is the first book to unite empirical research and public policy related to violent video games.
Anderson and Gentile presented their findings last week at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting in Boston.
The book’s first study found that even exposure to cartoonish children’s violent video games had the same short-term effects on increasing aggressive behavior as the more graphic teen (T-rated) violent games. The study tested 161 9- to 12-year-olds, and 354 college students. Each participant was randomly assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game. “Violent” games were defined as those in which intentional harm is done to a character motivated to avoid that harm. The definition was not an indication of the graphic or gory nature of any violence depicted in a game. . . .
“Even the children’s violent video games — which are more cartoonish and often show no blood — had the same size effect on children and college students as the much more graphic games have on college students,” said Gentile. “What seems to matter is whether the players are practicing intentional harm to another character in the game. That’s what increases immediate aggression — more than how graphic or gory the game is.”
Another study detailed in the book surveyed 189 high school students. The authors found that respondents who had more exposure to violent video games held more pro-violent attitudes, had more hostile personalities, were less forgiving, believed violence to be more typical, and behaved more aggressively in their everyday lives. The survey measured students’ violent TV, movie and video game exposure; attitudes toward violence; personality trait hostility; personality trait forgiveness; beliefs about the normality of violence; and the frequency of various verbally and physically aggressive behaviors.
The researchers were surprised that the relation to violent video games was so strong.
“We were surprised to find that exposure to violent video games was a better predictor of the students’ own violent behavior than their gender or their beliefs about violence,” said Anderson. “Although gender aggressive personality and beliefs about violence all predict aggressive and violent behavior, violent video game play still made an additional difference.
“We were also somewhat surprised that there was no apparent difference in the video game violence effect between boys and girls or adolescents with already aggressive attitudes,” he said. . . .
A third new study in the book assessed 430 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, their peers, and their teachers twice during a five-month period in the school year. It found that children who played more violent video games early in the school year changed to see the world in a more aggressive way, and became more verbally and physically aggressive later in the school year — even after controlling for how aggressive they were at the beginning of the study. Higher aggression and lower pro-social behavior were in turn related to those children being more rejected by their peers.
“I was startled to find those changes in such a short amount of time,” said Gentile. “Children’s aggression in school did increase with greater exposure to violent video games, and this effect was big enough to be noticed by their teachers and peers within five months.”
The study additionally found an apparent lack of “immunity” to the effects of media violence exposure. TV and video game screen time was also found to be a significant negative predictor of grades.
Is the book any good? Prof. Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona (Department of Communication) seems to think so:
The studies reported in this book provide the most rigorous and compelling evidence to date about the harmful effects of violent video games. In particular, the authors’ longitudinal study of video game violence effects should silence the critics who complain about the validity of short-term, experimental lab research. Policy-makers will cite this research as a cornerstone in their future efforts to address concerns about video game violence.
These and related studies have not addressed suicide per se, as far as I know, but I think it is fair to recognize the possibility of a link. If violent behavior and attitudes in general can be increased by the interactive training created by violent games, it would seem fair to worry that violent games can make the suicide threat even greater for many young people.
No, no, no – I’m not saying that Halo 3 or any other game is going to turn little Suzy into a murderous maniac who runs out and blows herself up. But if your children are struggling emotionally or facing difficult challenges in life, is violent training and a 3-D violence-filled environment the best way to help them cope?
Perhaps they will be better helped a little more family scripture study, more service opportunities, and longer family home evenings as alternatives to blowing their peers to bits. Hey, it’s just my opinion. Call me crazy!