Video Game Violence and Kids

Mean. Angry. Depressed. Violent. These are words that a recent group of parents used to describe their sons (ages 8-15) who are struggling with video game overuse. These parents of seasoned gamers can tell you stories of fists through the sheetrock, controllers through the screen and foul-language outbursts. These parents don’t need a study to validate what they already know to be true: Video games change kids’ brains and violent games can make children more aggressive.

How Did it all Start?

First-person shooting simulation technologies were first developed by the U.S. military as a way to desensitize and train new soldiers. Over time, video game designers started building more and more of this type of simulation into what we see in today’s modern video games.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman is the author of two books: “On Killing, the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” and “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence.” He explains how violent visual imagery affects the young mind:

“We have millions of kids at a gut basic level who view human death and suffering as their ‘popcorn’ … they are not just desensitized, they are taught to associate reward and pleasure with human death and suffering from an early age. We have turned killing into a conditioned response.”

Elementary: Real Versus Fantasy

The underdeveloped brain is unable to determine what’s real and what’s fake at this age. Even reports from the recent “Alexa” technology say that young kids believe that Alexa is a real person and can’t mentally draw a distinction. While it is normal for children to want to act out what they see on TV or in a game, it is not normal for them to act out violent roles over and over. It is normal for a child to play cops and robbers, but what is not normal is the exclusive acting out of violent roles. It is best for children to develop their own imagination through free play.

What your child needs instead: To build in-person friendships and use imagination instead of mimicking what is on the screen during offline free play.

Middle School Cool

Middle-schoolers can easily become heavy game players as they play video games to fit into their peer group and to relieve boredom. There is a lure for this age group to do ‘edgy’ things together and to share in the discovery of novel behavior with a friend. During this socially awkward age they also tend to trade non-tech activities for “easier” game time. They may begin to quit sports and non-tech hobbies as they find solace and success in the game. Their love for violent video games lines up perfectly with their desire to fit in and be part of the peer group, and this perfect storm is paving permanent habits before the onset of puberty. In addition, as their self-identity is being formed with violent and often sexualized images from games, they can easily confuse healthy masculinity with hurting and controlling others.

What your child needs instead: Encouragement and guidance are needed by loving parents to keep him/her engaged in non-gaming activities to balance development.

High School: Identity Versus Role Confusion

During this stage, kids are growing more desensitized to violence and graphic images. Empathy is not being practiced and there’s a good chance they are isolating themselves from the family. Pediatrician Meg Meeker recently stated, “In America, we have so distorted what we expect from teens that we have come to see isolation as a normal part of teen development. It isn’t. It is a red flag for depression — and any parent with a son who spends hours upon hours alone in his room, be warned. This is not healthy or normal behavior, so don’t let friends convince you that it is.”

The development of real-life skills, including chores or a weekend job, are being replaced with excessive screen time. Don’t expect your child to outgrow the game without your help.

What your child needs instead: A job. Regular chores and jobs teach responsibility and confidence. Your child also needs more connections with real friends and family.

5 Tips for Parents With Gamers

  1. Follow the ratings: Game ratings are set by the companies who make the game. Be sure you are not setting your standards lower than them.
  2. Know the game: Watch the game with your child for a few hours to experience what he/she is experiencing and make sure it aligns with your values.
  3. Enforce limits: Kids tend to overdo things when limits are not in place. They also cannot pull away from the temptation of the game on their own. Some limits to consider: No gaming during the school week, no games in the bedroom, no games on their phone, no games on their school laptop.
  4. Don’t follow the crowd: Just because a friend’s mom allows mature games in their home, doesn’t mean that you do.
  5. Get rid of the games: If none of the above work, many parents have found this to be the best solution of all. Remember, video games are not a necessary part of childhood.

The younger the kids are when they begin playing violent games, the more their sense of self will be shaped by these games. The longer you can wait to introduce them, if at all, the better. If you are still having second thoughts about introducing violent video games to your child, ask yourself this one question: Does the game make my child a better person? If your answer is no, put the game back in the box. Childhood is short. Protect it.