Are violent video games harmful to children?

A set of three separate longitudinal studies found a link between violent video games and increased aggression and impulsivity. (Photo: Freepik)
Playing video games for leisure has steadily gained global popularity amongst children and adults alike over recent years. However, the violence depicted in many games, which are played by millions of children globally, has led to a long-standing debate on whether or not they make children more violent and aggressive. اضافة اعلان

Many studies have linked violent video games to real-life violence; however, other studies show no credible link between the two.

Looking at the statistics

A 2020 report published by DFC Intelligence estimated that by mid-2020, there were nearly 3.1 billion video game consumers globally — around 40 percent of the world’s population. Another report showed that approximately 8.4 percent of children and teenagers are addicted to gaming, 11–12 percent are boys, and 6-7 percent are girls.

There are no reported studies on the amount of Jordanian youth who play video games. However, a 2018 study conducted in the MENA region reported that 7 in 10 of the youngest nationals play video games, with males playing more than females. The likelihood of gaming increases with further education.
Approximately 8.4 percent of children and teenagers are addicted to gaming, 11–12 percent are boys, and 6-7 percent are girls.
Shooter games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty are the most popular types of video games amongst all players, including children.

Internet Gaming Disorder

Due to the rise in video gaming addiction over the past decade, Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) was newly identified under Section III of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is listed as a condition that should warrant further clinical research and experience to officially be considered a formal disorder.

Some symptoms of IGD are preoccupation with gaming, experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and irritability, the inability to reduce playing time, loss of interest in other activities, the use of gaming to relieve negative moods, and deceiving others about the amount of time spent on gaming.

Several studies have found that IGD is comorbid with other mental health issues, specifically personal and social functioning impairment.

Due to how compulsively people are playing video games, levels of impairment or distress have become more widely reported, and statistics are only increasing with each year. It is not unlikely that this condition — which is endangering academic and job functioning — might officially be considered a diagnosable disorder.

An observational study done in Jordan that looked at the patterns and predictors of IGD in Jordanian youth found that 19 percent of gamers — mostly male students and unemployed adults — are potential cases of IGD. The same study found that IGD is increasingly being diagnosed or could be diagnosed among both genders and presents a significant health challenge across the board.

To accurately consider these statistics when making a decision regarding the correlation between video games and aggression in children, the time spent playing these video games is also important to note, especially because children are spending significantly more time on gaming than what is recommended.

Mixed research findings

In 2015, the American Psychological Association released an official statement saying that there was a very clear link between video game violence and aggression. The statement was supported by a task force’s review of many research studies conducted between 2005 and 2013. However, there remains insufficient evidence to claim a link between video games and criminal behavior.

The research on the link between violence in video games and aggressive behavior in children remains mixed. Studies have found no credible link showing that children participants exposed to prolonged periods of violent video games were any less aggressive than those who were not.

However, the main limitation of most of these studies is that they are not longitudinal in comparison to studies that have found a longitudinal link between video game violence and aggression.

Of the studies that have indicated an impact of violent video games on children’s well-being and behavior is a 2011 study that found that children who were already aggressive or had aggressive tendencies chose more violent video games. Similarly, another 2010 study found that children who were high in neuroticism and low in conscientiousness tend to become more aggressive after playing or watching violent video games.

A set of three separate longitudinal studies, all with large numbers of child participants, found a link between violent video games and increased aggression and impulsivity, as well as playing mature-rated video games predicted later risky behaviors.

A 2019 study done at the Jordan University of Science and Technology found that games with shooting and fighting lead to more hostile, aggressive, and delinquent behavior and found a strong positive correlation with IGD.

Why violent video games are dangerous

While it is known that the depiction of violence in television and movies has a substantial effect on aggression and violence, the current spotlight being placed on violent video games is due to their interactive nature that engrosses and requires the player to identify with the aggressor, making this medium potentially more dangerous.

As adequately put by psychologist Dr Craig Anderson: “In the short run, playing a violent video game appears to affect aggression by priming aggressive thoughts. Longer-term effects are likely to be longer-lasting as well, as the player learns and practices new aggression-related scripts that can become more and more accessible for use when real-life conflict situations arise.”

Just as any child is prone to learning from educational games and imitating positive behavior, they are also prone to learning, imitating, and practicing aggressive and violent solutions in conflict situations. This is especially true when such games are a child’s introduction to topics such as guns, criminal behavior, sexual exploitation, and drug use.

However, some researchers have argued that violent video games that promote aggressive behavior could actually reduce crime because the more time children spend playing violent video games, the less time they have to engage in antisocial activities.

The issue with such claims is that even if they were true, they subsequently would also lead to a decrease in prosocial activities, which are vital for the development of children.

The benefits of playing video games

In the same way that it would be difficult to deny the harmful effects of violent video games on a child’s well-being, it would also be difficult to deny the proven benefits of playing such games that require shooting and fighting.

Such games can affect various brain functions, leading to improved cognitive skills such as systemic thinking, pattern recognition, and enhanced working memory.
While it is true that it is practically impossible to prevent children from witnessing any type of media violence, it is ... imperative for parents to be proactive in their intervention on how media violence affects their children.
There has also been a recent increase in the “gamification” of therapy for children with both physical and mental health issues. When patients experience therapy as a game, evidence suggests that they are less likely to be aware of any discomfort and pain, motivating them to adhere to their prescribed treatment plan designed to manage their condition.

Another evidence-based benefit is the use of video games that offer realistic virtual environments in treating anxiety disorders.

Setting healthy limits

The impact of violent video games must remain a priority on our list of societal concerns, with a target on boys for aggression intervention. The proven link should not be ignored.

While it is true that it is practically impossible to prevent children from witnessing any type of media violence, it is absolutely imperative for parents to be proactive in their intervention on how media violence affects their children.

If the coming generation continues to be exposed to violence in more interactive manners without any guidance, intervention, or parental control, then it will have the power to make them more fearful, violent, and aggressive.

If your child begins to exhibit any sign, no matter how small, of aggressive behavior, then it is your responsibility as a parent or caretaker to reduce their exposure to such games.

If you have not seen any signs of aggressive behavior in your child, you should still continue to monitor their gaming activity, and pay very close attention to ratings on all video games and apps. Because even if it did not make them more aggressive, it is likely to have other devastating effects on their physical and mental health, especially since overexposure to violence eventually leads to desensitization to it.

Have an honest conversation with your child about the unhealthy messages being sent to them through graphically violent games, and offer your insight and model the proper way to regulate your time spent playing video games.

Promoting prosocial behavior also ensures that your child is well-rounded and better prepared to deal with conflict or crisis in a mature, collected, and non-violent manner.

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