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Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do is a controversial, opinionated book that discusses the effects of computer gaming on children. The authors, Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, are knowledgeable and have written extensively about the topic.
As the title indicates, many of the authors' findings may come as a surprise: chiefly, they believe that exposing children to violent games is not as risky as the public has been told. Moreover, they argue that much of society's concern about children's computer use has resulted from junk science, hypocritical pundits, and politicians who waste millions of dollars legislating a nonissue. Grand Theft Childhood is intended to remedy these concerns by critically reviewing the literature, discussing the authors' own research findings, and giving parents advice--lofty aspirations, which the book fails to accomplish.
The book consists of 229 pages of text plus end notes and an index. It is organized into 9 chapters that cover a remarkably wide array of topics. Included is a well-written chapter that reviews the history of media violence in American novels, films, and comics. Next, there is a review of selected research about computer game violence. In the chapter titled "Science, Nonsense and Common Sense," papers written by preeminent figures in the field such as Brad Bushman, Craig Anderson, and Dave Grossman are savaged, sometimes unevenly. Another chapter is devoted to the authors' research. The book closes with sections on how the content of games is rated in the United States, on politics and gaming, and with advice for parents.
The text is written for parents and, as such, is nontechnical. For example, terms such as "cross-sectional study" are defined in everyday language. The book often employs breakout sections in which topics are further explored or an expert is interviewed. This method is used too frequently and distracts the reader with what is often insubstantial material. Otherwise, the editing is superb and the writing is engaging.
While the authors demonstrate a good mastery of complex literature, the book has problems. One deficit is that the authors seem to know their cases through mass surveys or "focus groups." When it comes to specific cases, their clinical understanding seems less insightful. For example, on page 212, the authors report being consulted by the mother of a 22-year-old man who is "addicted" to video gaming. The authors conclude, "Clearly, the young man had some major problems. The obsessive video game play was much more likely a symptom than the root cause." Kutner and Olson do not seem to understand that while the computer use can often be a symptom of other disorders, it can also be a serious, self-perpetuating problem in its own right. The computer use is often an early defense against despair, but it can also socially isolate, perpetuate false feelings of power, and socially de-skill people; it can become its own source of pain and isolation. In persons such as this young man, if there are coexisting diagnoses (and there almost always are), eventually these diagnoses and the excessive computer use intertwine so completely that it becomes unclear--and in some ways irrelevant--which came first.
In another example, the authors discuss, by name, a man who shot and killed himself in front of his computer. They dismiss the event on the basis of a magazine article that reported on it. They write, "It's much more likely that his obsessive video game playing was a reflection of his other, more profound problems--a way he tried unsuccessfully to handle the intense emotions and stress he was feeling--and not the root cause of his suicide." Having discussed the suicide with the man's mother at several conferences, I found Kutner and Olson's synopsis disturbingly trite and inaccu-rate. Moreover, the ethical breach of publishing the man's name and speculating as to his diagnosis from afar was disturbing, to say the least.
A third issue results from the authors' own study of 1254 seventh and eighth graders in Pennsylvania and South Carolina schools. Their study found that children who were exposed to violent computer games became substantially more violent. Among other things, children who used violent computer games were "much more likely to get into physical fights, to hit or beat up someone, to damage property for fun, or to steal something from a store." The relationship was even stronger for girls. This seems, most directly, to contradict the thrust of the book's argument. While the authors were correct in explaining the many reasons that this link may not mean causality, they leave out the possibility that violent or obsessive gaming can indeed be dangerous.
Overall, the book is well-written, engaging, and interesting. It is unfortunate that in an effort to make an all-inclusive text that is accessible to a wide audience, the authors' reasoning often becomes flippant and simplistic. --Psychiatric Times, Jerald Block, M.D. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/1349837
The book is very well written and not all dry or stuffy.
Instead of drawing premature conclusions, the authors really explored true cause-and-effect relationships of video games, social interactions, parenting, and violence.
If I agreed with the book's premise, I would have given 3 stars (since I'm still not sure it's based on science, but opinion).
This study is very in-depth and conducted by two psychologists, using all available data as well as surveys, interviews and behavioral studies. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
As a child neuropsychologist, I beg to differ with the interpretation of the research found in this book. Read morePublished 15 months ago by MindMatters
video games do not cause violence it is not ment little 3 year olds that is why it has a agePublished 18 months ago by tanner loggains
This isn't science. It is a person with an agenda trying to use a limited survey with biased question in the goal of making a point and selling a book.Published on January 11, 2013 by B. J. Marchini
This book is a great read for parents and guardians. It offers new insights on the world of video games and the effects they can have on youth and how to prevent kids from the... Read morePublished on January 1, 2013 by Bird
I was hoping for a careful, unbiased view of the research on the effect of video games on children. I was disappointed. Read morePublished on May 6, 2012 by someonefewa
This book is ridiculously asinine. Biased propaganda at the utmost. Like an earlier review stated, they flash their achievements in the first chapter, expecting it to instill some... Read morePublished on September 22, 2011 by JediHeadband
this book is a rather functional and well-supported bit of writing to defend by way of simple logic, video games against the attacks that selfish news media and even more selfish... Read morePublished on July 16, 2010 by Akira Touya
The authors sincerely believe they are helping the debate on video games in our culture. Of that I am certain. There has been much work put into this book. Read morePublished on December 3, 2009 by C. S.