Video Games and Children

By Victor Medina

As the popularity of video games increases, the debate over their effect on children rages. Some child psychologists and family groups argue violent and mature video games negatively affect children. Parents who complain that video games are harmful may now have proof. A number of studies have linked video game usage to negative behavior in children and adolescents. Video game supporters cite studies that show benefits, and encourage better parental supervision.

The truth may lie somewhere between; like most things, video games should be enjoyed in moderation. Proper supervision over content could avoid many of the negative side effects, while taking advantage of the positive benefits.

NEGATIVE EFFECTS

Studies and reports suggest a correlation between extended video game use (especially violent games) and negative psychological and behavioral effects. Among those cited are aggressive tendencies, violent outbursts, and drug and alcohol abuse.

A 2008 report in the American Academy of Pediatrics combined studies on children in the United States and Japan, and found violence behavior increased with video game usage. The studies showed “conclusive evidence that playing violent video games has harmful effects on children and adolescents.”

A 2006 study by Indiana University reported violent video games could cause aggression in children and teens. MRIs performed on adolescents playing violent video games found the emotional centers of the brain become more active while the centers of the brain that regulate self control stopped functioning.

Some studies suggest extensive video game use could negatively affect social development in young children. A 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association report found adolescents who played video games spent significantly less time doing homework than those who did not. Authors of the study fear video games “interfere with the development of skills needed to make a successful transition to adulthood.”

A 2009 Brigham Young University study found that as video game usage increased, the quality of relationships with others, including family, friends, and other peers, decreased. The BYU Study found that daily video game users were twice as likely to use drugs. They were three times as likely to use drugs over those who never played games.

POSITIVE EFFECTS

The news isn’t all bad for gamers. Studies of puzzle-based video games found they improve problem solving skills and raised intelligence levels in children. Other studies cite video games as stress reducers in children and adults. In addition, video games appear to improve hand coordination. A hospital-based study found doctors who practiced on a modified Wii video game controller improved their skills on tools used in minimally invasive surgery up to 50%.

LIMITING VIDEO GAME USE

While direct parental oversight is ideal in limiting video game use by children, parents do have additional tools. Devices like the “PlayLimit” attach to televisions and limit viewing, as well as game play, in 15 minute increments.

Child psychologists recommend that parents both limit the time their children spend playing games and take heed of ratings on games. Many parents are unaware that popular games rated as “MA” (Mature Audiences) often contain graphic content, like profanity, excessive violence, sexual content, and nudity.

Victor has served as a Community Voices columnist for THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS and editor of the NORTH TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS REPORT. He has been featured in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL & several national magazines.

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