Do Video Games Cause Violent Behavior in Kids?

Violent video games have been a hot-button topic for parents, educators, and members of the pediatric community for years as many express concern over the impact these games may have on kids. And the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has a caused some to ask again, “Do violent video games lead to violent behavior in kids?”

What the Experts Say

A 2014 study published in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal of the Public of Library Science, concluded that playing violent video games in both online and offline environments did lead to increased aggression in the player when compared to the results of playing neutral games. In this study, participants played either neutral or violent games for a set period of time. They then completed questionnaires and participated in an activity while being observed. The researchers noted that the individuals who played violent games prior to the activity were more likely to be aggressive during it.

According to the American Psychological Association’s August 2015 policy statement, it’s not just that violent games breed more aggressive behavior. Their research on the subject also shows a link between playing these games and “decreased prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement.” In short, scientists are beginning to wonder if children who play such games, particularly for long periods of time, may not develop the right social skills.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) weighs in on the issue too, noting that violence is prevalent in all forms of media, not just video games. The AAP estimates that in the year 2000, “every G-rated movie contained violence, as did 60% of prime time television shows.” AAP reports that “a sizable majority of media researchers both in pediatrics and psychology believe that existing data show a significant link between virtual violence and aggression.”

Impact of Video Games and Screen Time

While violent video games do seem to have connections to aggressive—and sometimes violent—behavior, experts don’t think all video games are bad for kids. More kids are playing more games for more hours each day, and they have plenty of points of access. Games can be played on console systems, computers, smartphones, and tablets. And while parents do need to be concerned that their child is doing well in other areas, and not engaging in addictive behavior with regard to games, a child playing more video games than their parents did at that age is likely not cause for concern.

Constance Steinkuehler, a professor at UC Irvine and the Higher Education Video Game Alliance president, says that the structure of children’s lives today is very different than it would have been a few decades ago. Many kids live heavily structured lives and can feel stress; video games let them engage in leisure to reduce stress. Plus, there are plenty of nonviolent games available that are fun and provide educational value.

Certainly, too much screen time is unhealthy. That’s true for everyone, no matter their ages. And the overall increase in generic video games doesn’t seem to have led to significant increases in violent crime.

Take-Away for Parents

Parents should be aware of the types of games their children are playing—and the amount of violence they are viewing—and make decisions about what is appropriate for their individual child to be exposed to. One of the best ways to keep tabs on what kids are seeing in video games—and spend time and communicate with them in the process—is to join them for a game. Because even games that look appropriate at first glance may not be the best choice for each child.

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