Games for Character and Mindfulness: New Techniques Are Sought for Teaching Middle Schoolers about Kindness and Empathy

Article excerpt

Many adults remember their own middle-school years (ages 11 to 14) as filled with traumatic episodes of hormonal rage, self-loathing, and aggressiveness. As grown-ups, educators, parents, and child development specialists may well hope for better experiences for today's and tomorrow's youth.

Video games may have their critics, but they could turn out to be a vital ally in developing a variety of beneficial skills, such as empathy, cooperation, mental focus, self-regulation, compassion, and kindness, according to Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin--Madison.

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"By the time they reach the eighth grade, virtually every middle-class child in the Western world is playing smartphone apps, video games, and computer games," says Davidson, who is the William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at UW-Madison. "Our hope is that we can use some of that time for constructive purposes and take advantage of the natural inclination of children of that age to want to spend time with this kind of technology."

Davidson has teamed with Kurt Squire, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Games Learning Society Initiative, and received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design two prototype games: one for improving attention and mental focus, and another focusing on social behaviors such as kindness, compassion, and altruism. …