When I was a kid the cartoons and video games were always violent, but they seemed so benign.
Do you remember Tom & Jerry and the Road Runner cartoons? Incredibly violent.
Donkey Kong, Zelda and Super Mario Brothers? Also violent, but seemingly harmless.
However, times have changed. Video game technology has improved rapidly. Modern games are incredibly realistic, more violent than ever and they capture the imagination of our young people like nothing else.
The effects of violent video games is a hotly debated issue, both among parents and researchers. It is challenging to get any clear answers and separate facts from hype.
In this blog post I am going to give you the highlights of the issue and most importantly provide some practical advice for you and your family.
To start with, here are some of the questions and concerns that parents often share with me.
- Are violent video games really dangerous for otherwise well balanced kids?
- When my son plays violent video games he gets really agitated and often angry.
- What are the actual effects of these violent games?
- Does research show that violent video games delay development in children?
There is a lot of confusion, uncertainty and plenty of strong bias when it comes to talking about the connection between video games and youth violence.
I have my bias and I’m sure you have yours.
There are definitely more questions than answers, but I believe we can find a healthy path for our teenagers while the researchers fight over causation and effect size. 🙂
Before I give you a little more in depth information I will give you the quick version. There are a lack of clear answers after nearly two decades of research. Studies on whether violent video games lead to aggression in children have been mixed. Some studies have found a strong connection, while others find no link at all.
The takeaway for you is this. You have to decide what your values are and how your son is uniquely affected by playing violent video games. Then you can make the decisions you need to make for your family.
Here are two quick points to consider.
1. I think we would all agree that young children should definitely not play or be exposed to violent video games. They just can’t process the information and they don’t yet know the difference between fantasy and reality.
2. If you have a teenager who already tends to be violent or aggressive it is not a good idea to allow him to play certain games without limits.
Note: Don’t be too quick to blame the video games. You also have to factor in other life stressors. The gaming could be a symptom and not what is causing the aggression.
For more support and strategies check out my parenting resource.
Ok, here is some information on what various researchers have come up with. I think it is rather interesting, even if it is difficult to understand how multiple studies could have such different conclusions!
Position #1: video games cause violence in children and teenagers.
Gentile & Anderson (2003) state that playing video games may increase aggressive behavior because violent acts are continually repeated throughout the video game. This method of repetition has long been considered an effective teaching method in reinforcing learning patterns.
Research has also found that, controlling for prior aggression, children who played more violent video games during the beginning of the school year showed more aggression than other children later in the school year. (Pediatrics, Nov. 2008)
There was a rather large research study done in Singapore where gaming is prevalent. They found that children who play violent video games may experience an increase in aggressive thoughts, which in turn, could boost their aggressive behavior.
The reason for the increase in aggressive behavior was that children who played a lot of violent video games had an increase in aggressive thoughts: for instance, they were more likely to interpret an ambiguous act, like someone bumping into them, as hostile.
Children and adolescents who play a lot of violent games may change over time as they start to see aggressive solutions as being more reasonable.
If you do a Google search on “violent video games and youth violence” you will get 690,000 results. There is a massive amount of information on this subject.
Many of the media stories and even research studies do make the argument for a strong connection between violent video games and youth violence. It is very hard to tell the difference between media induced panic and legitimate information. There is no doubt that the idea that one causes the other is the overwhelming cultural viewpoint.
The point I always make is that it really depends on the individual teenager as to whether violent video games have a negative impact or not.
It is clear to me that you and I cannot make decisions for our children based on inconclusive research.
On that note, here is some information to support the opposite perspective.
Position #2: video games do not cause violence in children and teenagers.
In a relatively new study, Drs. Christopher Ferguson and Cheryl Olson discovered violent video games such as ‘Mortal Kombat,’ ‘Halo’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ did not cause high-risk teens (those with symptoms of depression or attention deficit disorder) to become aggressive bullies or delinquents.
In fact, in the study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers found that playing the video games actually had a very slight calming effect on youth with attention deficit symptoms and helped to reduce aggressive and bullying behavior.
Their findings are in line with those of a recent Secret Service report in which the occurrence of more general forms of youth violence were linked with aggressiveness and stress rather than with video game violence.
Despite increases in violent games, movies and television programs in recent decades, youth violence has not increased. In fact, the latest statistics show youth violence at a 40-year low.
If video games really did have this direct, linear affect, we would be able to see it in society, and according to some experts that is not happening.
Some research has shown that playing violent video games in groups reduces feelings of hostility better than playing such games alone. More research is definitely needed, but there seems to be a strong potential value of cooperative play in developing social behavior and curbing antisocial thoughts and behaviors.
I could go on with more examples, but I think you get the idea and the general tone of these findings. Even I was surprised to find that at-risk youth were not overly influenced by playing some of the more violent and even anti-social games.
So what does this mean for you and your family?
One of the researchers Dr. Christopher Ferguson has this to say. “I think each parent has both the right and responsibility to decide what is best for their family, and also to respect that what works for one family may be different than what works for a different family.” He adds “it’s best to understand that this is a moral decision and not a public health decision.”
As a parent, my research into this topic has led me to two conclusions.
- I have to evaluate my own bias and opinions logically and weigh the information.
- I will always go with my intuition and what I think is best for my children, regardless of any research study or other parent’s opinions.
With that said, I support you in making these important decisions for your family with confidence!
If you need more guidance and creative solutions check out my Parenting Strategy Guide on teenagers and video games.