I saw an article today on a recent study that documents the exposure to violent video games changes the way the brain works and it affects the particular part of the brain that deals with emotion. And no surprise to me or anyone with any common sense, there was a decrease in activation….meaning exposure to violence decrease their emotional response.
The reason this is on my mind is that I recently finished a science fiction trilogy, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, that targets young readers. While I thoroughly enjoyed the books and would recommend them to any adult reader who enjoys that genre, I would never recommend them to my kids until they are probably over 16. Over 16 is not what I would call a “young reader”. For example, my daughter who is 8 1/2 and is in the 3rd grade reads on a 6th grade level and she has tackled books up to the 8th grade level. I’ve seen publishers describe the young reader market as 9 to 11 or 8 to 13….so my daughter could possible fit this description.
The problem for young readers of The Hunger Games trilogy is that it is extremely violent and the final book has some very graphic scenes. There is also a romantic triangle (unfortunately similar to Twilight but better done) but that all ends up being nothing more than kissing. The story is set in a dystopian future North America where 12 Districts are ruled by a despotic Central Government located in one large city. Periodically the government demands “tributes”–human sacrifices from each of the 12 Districts, one male and one female–to battle it out in an arena on TV as a form of entertainment and punishment. They tributes fight for survival and only one is allowed to exit the arena alive. To add just a little extra kick and enliven things on the “show” the government puts in some added dangers in the arena….so if enough kids aren’t dying and it gets boring they can get the ball rolling again.
With this brief explanation can you imagine the potential for violence in this story? And Collins delivers masterfully. Ultimately what these kids go through was heartbreaking to me as an adult and if I had read this as an 9 or 10 year old, it probably would have given me nightmares. Then again, I was a sensitive child. I was raised before personal computers and video games were ubiquitous in society. The Internet in the 70’s was only an idea.
My point is that although current generations of children are much more inured to violence and its effects, having been exposed to so much of it on TV and on computers, it still behooves us as a society and as parents to put the brakes on that exposure. Do we really want several generations of kids that are emotionally unaffected by violence? The real world implications of such numbness is frightening to me and should spur us to action.
I’m not saying we should censor art on any official level. I do think that the ratings for movies, game content, etc could be improved. I think we should put pressure on publishers as consumers to change the definition of what books are appropriate for “young readers”. I also think we should take action in our own families to limit how much violence children are exposed to. And finally, I think that there should be an educational campaign, by who I haven’t worked out yet, on the consequences of exposing kids to violence so that parents can make more informed decisions.
Again, I am not condemning The Hunger Games trilogy. It is an outstanding achievement and I highly recommend, just not to young readers. The real world is, sadly, violent enough, do we have to shove it in our kids’ faces in the form of art too?