A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Video Games: Can they have a negative effect on kids?

Violent Video Games Inside

Violent video games are more popular than ever — Learn how parents can protect their kids from the negative effects of these games.

From those addicting apps you can’t stop playing to those new shows you can’t stop binging, there are so many ways to stay entertained. One medium that continues to grow in popularity is video games.

In 2018, in the United States alone, video game revenue skyrocketed to over $43 billion dollars, an 18% growth from the previous year. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, games are more immersive and challenging than ever before. Stories can be told and levels can be designed that video game creators wouldn’t have dreamed of decades ago.

This growth also makes it even more important that parents remain aware of what their children are playing. Some games depict violence, blood and other mature content that may not be appropriate for players under a certain age.

Do video games desensitize kids to violence?

“It has been pretty well established that violent video game exposure is associated with aggressive behavior,” said Dr. Stephanie Kohlbeck, pediatric psychologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “That doesn’t necessarily mean violent behavior — there has been no causal link found between violent video games and lethal violence — but rather an increase in aggressive cognitions and affect.”

Kohlbeck also mentions a possible decrease in socially desirable behaviors such as empathy and moral engagement if a child has too much exposure to violent video games.

ESRB Rating System – Helpful to a point

One system in place that helps parents monitor what their child is playing is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system.

The ESRB organization assigns ratings to video games based off their suggested age appropriateness. A game can be rated ‘E’ (generally suitable for any age), ‘E10+’ (suitable for ages 10 and up), ‘T’ (suitable for ages 13 and up), ‘M’ (suitable for ages 17 and up), or ‘AO’ (suitable for ages 18 and up).

This system can be a handy way for parents to decide what game to get their child, but it does have its limitations. “Unfortunately kids may want to gravitate towards the games with more restrictive ratings – almost as a ‘forbidden fruit’ effect,” said Kohlbeck. “The system is a great monitoring tool for parents, but it’s important to be careful.”

The online factor

Another growing trend in video games for parents to be aware of is online play. Many games allow you to connect and compete with other players from across the globe. Oftentimes, you can voice or text chat directly with your teammates or opponents.

“With online games, your child could wind up interacting with a much older person who could be located almost anywhere in the world,” said Kohlbeck. “Even if the game itself is not violent, there is a risk that the child could be exposed to inappropriate language during online play.”

Limits, consistency and boundaries

It’s not all doom-and-gloom when it comes to the role video games can play with kids. In fact, there are quite a few positives associated with activity.

“I’m not saying ‘kids should never play video games,’” Kohlbeck said. “Positive things such as improved hand-eye coordination and better problem-solving skills are associated with them, but those skills can also be gained from participating in sports and STEM activities. When it comes to playing video games, it’s all about limits, consistency and boundaries.”

Kohlbeck recommends following the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychological Association guidelines for child screen time limits.

“Those limits aren’t just for video games,” said Kohlbeck. “It’s for any type of screen, including tablets and televisions. Children between two and five should be limited to one hour of screen time a day while kids six and older should have some type consistent limit placed on their screen time.”

A warning sign for parents to take note of is if video games start taking the place of other important daily activities.

“When we see kids not going outside to play with their friends because they want to finish their game, that’s worrisome,” Kohlbeck said. “Those are the moments where it’s most important to set those limits and boundaries.”

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