Parenting Advice – Help! My Child is Addicted to Video Games

by Dr. Noel Swanson

Video gaming is an industry that is close to 35 years old and continuing to grow each and every year. The growth in purchases is being matched by the improvements in technology. What was state of the art just 2 years ago is being trashed by gamers for the newest and greatest gaming systems.

Video games are also becoming more realistic and exciting which makes them popular with children and youth. Surveys have determined that approximately 79% of American children now play computer or video games on a regular basis. And most of the games on the market today are aimed at the population of children between 7 and 17.

In another study from the Netherlands based firm Junior Senior Research, video games are a part of the daily activity of nearly 61% of a population of boy and girls up to age 15. Interestingly though, in this study of nearly 4,000 children 65% preferred playing games on the computer and not a game console.

The growth of the gaming industry has not been without controversy. Although more research information appears to be available for television than gaming the initial results seem to bare out the theory that children who are involved in aggressive or hostile video games are more likely to become involved in physical aggression in real life.

Video games have a rating system that helps parents to understand the level of violence and sexual content in the game before it’s purchased. Most video games do have positive aspects to playing them. Children learn problem solving skills, improved concentration with distractions and the ability to strategize.

However, those games which belong to the subset that feature violence, gore and antisocial behaviors have raised concern with parents, educators, advocates and medical professionals. The result of this has been rounds of congressional hearings, policy debates and continued research into the outcomes for children and young adults.

In the past organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all conducted research which shows scientific evidence that children who watch violent television are more likely to have aggressive behavior. Researchers theorize that those who play aggressive video games are even at higher risk because the games are interactive and not passive, each game is repetitive as children go through the same levels to reach the next achievement, and because rewards increase the ability of the person to learn and the video games give rewards to the participants.

In an analysis of 35 different studies, which looked at violence in video games and the behavior of those who played, researchers found several interesting correlations. When watching violent games the physiological response of the person was elevated. This means that the game triggered increased heart rates and blood pressure. The exposure to these violent games also increased the aggressive thoughts and emotions of the children in the short term. In a study of 8th and 9th graders students who played violent games were also more likely to see the world as a hostile place. They got into more arguments with teachers and were involved in more physical fights.

It has been suggested that video games aren’t the culprit in these situations. Instead children who are naturally more aggressive are drawn to video games and television shows that are more violent. While this factor may have some truth it isn’t the whole truth. In another study the researchers measured hostility traits, controlled for sex and hostility levels and the amount of video game playing and still found that students who played violent games were still more likely to be involved in aggressive behavior, no matter what their previous hostility trait level had been.

The last correlation found was that those children who were exposed on a consistent basis to violent video games had a decreased ability to have compassion for others as measured by their willingness to positively help others in need.

In the aftermath of Columbine High School shootings, then President Bill Clinton, asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the validity of accusations that manufacturers of video games that were rated “M” for violence were deliberately marketing to younger children. The report, which was released in 2000, found that 70% of the games at the time that were rated “M” were deliberately marketed to children under the age of 17. This confirmed that although the games warranted parental caution they were being marketed in an irresponsible manner.

But the vast majority of video games available today aren’t violent. Instead they are legitimately aimed at the youth and may even have some educational value in playing them. There are games that teach problem solving skills, eye hand coordination, strategy development and planning.

Parents of school age and teen age children are often faced with two dilemmas. The first relates to the violence of the games that are marketed to our children. The second relates to the amount of time that children sit in front of televisions and video games wiling away their time watching other people live theirs.

The vast majority of the research done on video games has been on the effects of watching and interacting with violent games but there has also been research done on children who watch television consistently and the results may be extrapolated to those who also sit for hours in front of a hand-held screen of flashing images. Researchers from the University of California link watching television from 2 to 4 hours per day to increased risks of high blood pressure and obesity.

The results of this study should be self-evident. We are designed to be active and release energy. Sitting in front of a computer, hand-held gaming system or television only leads to decrease metabolism, poor food choices and weight gain. All of these things lead to poor overall health.

The question about whether or not children should play video games is a question that must be answered on an individual basis by the people who know them best, their parents. Some children exhibit characteristics of an addictive personality early and will find it difficult to get away from the games while others may only play while they’re on car trips or it’s raining outside. Parents should be intentional when they make their decision about getting computer games or a gaming system. Be prepared to make rules before the games are purchased and stick to those rules.

See Also Parenting Articles by Dr. Randy Cale at www.TerrificParenting.com

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