Monday, June 14, 2010

Violent Video Games Do Not Cause Violence in Most Children

Parents continue to ask me on a regular basis if playing violent video games will cause their children to be violent.  The answer is usually, "no."  Most kids--millions and millions of them--will have no increases in any meaningful long-term violent behavior because they played Modern Warfare 2 or other violent games.

In a recent Reuters article, one expert noted, "Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests."

However, this doesn't mean that it is always a good idea to let your child play violent video games.  You have to take developmental maturity into consideration (i.e., your 7-year-old might not be ready to play Halo Reach when it comes out, but your 14-year-old probably will be), as well as your own child's unique temperament and personality traits.  Parents need to know their child and make specific judgments about whether it is good for him or her to play.  Engage your child, play video games with them--or at least show interest in observing from time to time--and talk non-judgmentally about them. 

Here are some likely risk factors for negative reactions to video games include the following:

1.   Low tolerance for frustration - If your child gets very quickly overheated and can't manage upsetting emotions well, especially when compared to other kids of the same age, then it's probably wise to limit the exposure to certain types of games.

2.  Frequent depressed or dark moods - If your child is prone to dark moods, isolation, or feelings of hopelessness. By the way, if this is true, you will probably want to consider seeking out professional help for them, as well.

3.  Indifferent to the feelings of others - Lack of empathy and lack of remorse are big risk factors that should not be ignored.

4.  Often breaks rules or promises to others - Again, you need to compare this to other children of the same age, but if your child breaks rules more frequently than his or her peers, especially big rules or does things that may negative affect other people (stealing, bullying, etc), then you will want to set some limits on certain types of gaming.

The best analogy I have heard thus far is that of a peanut allergy.  Most people aren't allergic to peanuts, but a few are.  The vast majority of kids who play video games are doing great, but a select few are “allergic.”  If you are allergic, then just don’t play or let your kids play.  At the very least, limit their exposure to too much gaming if your child has any of the risk factors.

Dr. Frank Gaskill is a licensed psychologist at Southeast Psych who works with children and their parents.  One of his specialties is helping parents understand and skillfully navigate the new technologies that are part of their children's daily lives.