The National Institute of Health is granting Yale associate professor Dr Lynn Fielin $US3.9 million over five years to develop a game aimed at helping children aged nine through 14 say no to sex, drugs and other HIV-transmitting behaviours.
In my day, topics like sex and drug abuse were generally relegated to high school health classes, but today's children are growing up faster than ever before. That's why The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is shelling out nearly $US4 million, in the hopes that Dr Fielin's game can make a difference.
It's a bit shocking that the game, Retro-Warriors, which puts children into dangerous situations involving sex, drugs, and alcohol using virtual avatars, is being tested by children from 9-14. According to Peggy McCardle, chief of the NICHD's Child Development and behaviour Branch, the young test subjects are necessary to determine the game's effectiveness.
"According to the U.S. centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk behaviour Surveillance Survey: 7.1 percent of high school students say they have had sexual intercourse before the age of 13. That figure is higher for certain groups, with 26.2 percent of black males and 11.9 percent of Hispanic male students reporting having had intercourse before age 13. Similarly, rates for other risky behaviours are also high, with 23.8 percent of high school students saying they had drunk alcohol and 8.3 percent saying they had tried marijuana before age 13. The rationale for the current project is to teach younger children the negotiation and refusal skills that they will need to resist pressures for risky behaviours, before those behaviours become established, or before they even begin."
The statistics are frightening, really, but do they justify exposing young children who otherwise might have avoided such subjects altogether to the sort of testing procedure outlined in the abstract for the government grant?
"Subjects will play two sessions/week of their assigned game for four weeks. The primary outcome will be initiation of sexual activity, defined as the initiation of either vaginal or anal intercourse. Secondary outcomes include HIV risk behaviour knowledge, social competency, self-efficacy, drug/alcohol use behaviours and overall risk-taking behaviours. We hypothesize that the experimental group will have lower rates of initiation of sexual activity and have higher knowledge scores at 1, 6, 12, and 24 months compared with the control group."
You can read all about the testing and development of Retro-Warriors at CNSNews.com, where they've posted a lengthy article dealing with the development and implementation of the game.
Remember back when all we needed was kids in colourful costumes dancing around, telling us not to do drugs? Now we are warning children about the dangers of anal sex. I'm not sure I like the direction the world is heading in. Can we rewind a little please?