violence and the group experience

In her research into violent fantasy play in her classroom, Jane Katch initially expressed concern that the children were unsettled by such play and that it inhibited their engagement in lessons. This is not what her findings suggests, though; one day, when the children appear particularly calm after recess, it transpires that they were playing ‘Goosebumps’. “The children tell me it’s not the violent content of the games that makes them upset. If their game is fair, if they play by the rules, and if it doesn’t get too competitive, they feel settled whether or not the content of their fantasy is violent. Is my theory about violence in play all wrong?” (p.83)

In fact, Katch seems to find that the children’s interest in violence leads them into important discussions with significant adults (discussions that shape the children’s relationships with these adults in positive ways). For example: Katch observes that one of the older children she knows (who is fascinated by violence) enjoys a very meaningful relationship with his father and that this relationship takes shape partly through their discussions of violence: Jason tells her “I think that’s sort of the wrong way to go, to completely shelter kids from it [violent video games, etc.]. Because when I meet little kids who are totally sheltered from violence, that just makes them have an incentive to do it. You want to do it ’cause you’re not supposed to. I think that if a kid had a little bit of exposure to it and it wasn’t encouraged or anything, I think it would be better than like letting him think he couldn’t go near it.
“Games that have killing but the main purpose of the game isn’t killing, it’s action or puzzles or character interaction or something, that’s what kind of game my parents let me play. If it’s a game where you only see your gun and you go around shooting everyone and it’s really gory and then the person laughs every time someone gets killed and there’s screaming and stuff, no. But if it was a game where there’s just a little person that blobs and goes ‘pop’, that’s not bad. What my dad says, and I agree with it, is that it’s okay to have some violence as long as you keep talking about it and making sure that your kid knows that it’s not a good thing. If you just leave it alone, he won’t know any better.” (pp.120-121) Responding to these comments, Katch writes: “When Jason first started telling me about this attitude, I thought it was an easy justification of his game playing. Now I am beginning to see his point. If his parents forbade his games, would he become more obsessed with his obsession? / I am impressed with how frequently Jason tells me his father’s opinion. These conversations and the relationship that surrounds them are deeply meaningful to him. Could it be true that limiting the excessive violence and continuing this dialogue is a better middle ground than trying to eliminate the games altogether?” (p.121)

Katch suggests that to understand children’s violent play, we might look more broadly at the group dynamics surrounding this play (rather than look closely at the violence and try to understand it in isolation). I like this idea. Again, talking to Jason, she realises that “For a kid who often feels powerless in relation to adults and to other kids, the video games are a safe way he can feel strong and in control. After a bad day at school, he can go to his room and peacefully kill off the enemies, making steady progress toward an attainable goal. With a video game, anyone can be a dominant puppy. It’s a satisfaction in his life that he can count on. Why should he give it up?” (p.120)

Katch herself observes that she finds groups difficult and during some professional development, she notes: “This was exactly what I hate most about being in a group: feeling out of control, with no way to change what seems to me to be a destructive path.” (p.124)

Does violent fantasy play offer children opportunities to feel in and out of control – and so explore these experiences in a safe environment?
Does it help children find ways to change the direction their group is going in?

I found these ideas thought-provoking.

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Jane Katch (c2001) Under Deadman’s Skin: Discovering the meaning of children’s violent play. Beacon Press: Boston, Massachusetts

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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