Do you ever worry that your child is spending too much time playing video games? If so, you’re not alone.
In light of the recent events in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, many concerned parents are questioning the effects that gaming, especially violent games, might have on their kids and seeking out parenting strategies to help them set limits.
While video games have been around in one form or another for more than three decades, today’s games are realistic, sophisticated – and demand an unprecedented level of interaction from players. An increasing number of researchers are exploring games’ influence on developing brains; so far, results indicate that gaming can have both positive and negative effects.
Several studies show that well-designed and educational video games may improve:
- Fine motor skills
- Coordination and manual dexterity
- Collaboration skills
- Computer literacy
However, research also suggests that games with violent content may increase some kids’ potential for aggressive behavior. This tendency may be especially pronounced in games that reward aggressive acts and, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, include content such as:
- Killing people or animals
- Use of alcohol and drugs
- Criminal activity
- Disrespect for authority
- Violence toward women
- Racial and gender stereotypes
- Obscene language
Studies show that when children are repeatedly exposed to violence, they may become numb to its effects and be more likely to display aggressive behavior. When children repeat a violent act over and over in a game, it acts as a teaching method, reinforcing that behavior. Kids with behavioral, learning and emotional problems tend to be even more susceptible.
The amount of time children spend playing violent games is also a key factor. A 2004 study found that kids who played violent games for extended periods tended to be more likely to:
- Engage in aggressive behavior
- Display less pro-social behavior
- Confront their teachers
- Fight with their peers
- Perform poorly in school
As a parent, you can lessen the potential for negative impact by limiting your child’s amount of screen time and minimizing their exposure to violent games. You can also:
- Ensure that games are age- and developmentally appropriate by checking the ESRB rating and playing them yourself first
- Talk to your child about what they see and experience while gaming
- Keep video game equipment out of your child’s bedroom
- Serve as a gaming role model for your child
- Network with other parents who are concerned about gaming
If you are concerned about your child’s exposure to violence in video games or worry that they may be addicted to gaming, speaking to a professional may help. A child psychologist or teen psychologist can provide suggestions on setting limits and creating boundaries to help keep your child safe, healthy and happy.