Do Violent Video Games Really Lead to Aggressive Behavior?

Violent video games can influence the way your child behaves.
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Video games are a $10 billion industry. As the industry rapidly expands with new gaming systems and updated technology, there has been stiff competition to create the most realistic and interactive games.

From war games to car thefts, many of these games include graphic acts of violence. And many of these games are being played by children.

Some of the most popular games include violent images of people or animals being killed. Sexual exploitation, drug use, and criminal behavior are also depicted frequently.

While some parents claim video games have no effect on their child, many experts warn about the harmful effects violent games can have on kids.

What the Research Says About Violent Video Games

The research on the link between video games and aggressive behavior in children has been mixed. Certainly, some studies have shown that children who play violent video games do not exhibit any increased aggression.

But here are some studies that do indicate violent video games impact a child’s well-being and behavior: 

  • A 2007 study by the Swinburne University of Technology found that while some children became more aggressive, others became less aggressive. The vast majority did not show any changes in their levels of anger.
  • A 2010 study found that video games only lead to aggression in children with specific personalities. Children who were high in neuroticism and low in conscientiousness, for example, tended to become more aggressive after watching violent video games.
  • A 2011 study found that aggressive children tend to choose more violent video games. The researchers found no evidence that violent games caused aggression.
  • A 2011 study by the Center for European Economic Research found that although violent video games may promote aggressive behavior, they could actually reduce crime. Researchers suggest that children who spend more time playing video games have less time to engage in antisocial activities.

The American Psychological Association’s Stance

In 2015, the American Psychological Association released a statement that said there is a clear link between aggression and video game violence. This was based on a task force’s review of research conducted between 2005 and 2013.

The task force reports violent video games lead to decreased empathy and reduced prosocial behavior. The same statement acknowledges there is insufficient evidence of a link between violent video games and criminal behavior.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Report on Virtual Violence

In a 2016 statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to prevent children from witnessing any type of media violence. And they report that it's imperative for parents to be proactive about how media violence impacts children.

Their statement, in part states, "research shows that without guidance or controls it has the power to make children more aggressive, violent and fearful."

It's recommended that parents prevent children under 6 from witnessing any type of media violence because they're not able to separate reality from fantasy. They also recommend parents of older children closely monitor all media violence on TV, online, and in video games.

How to Set Healthy Limits on Video Games

If your child exhibits aggressive behavior, reducing his exposure to violent material could help. But even if you haven’t seen any signs of aggression, it’s important to monitor your child’s video game play. Watching acts of violence may desensitize your child to violent behavior.

Keep in mind that appropriate media use for children isn't just about the quantity of screen time they get, it's also about the quality of the media they are consuming. Here are a few tips for setting healthy limits on video games:

  • Monitor what games your child is playing. Keep a close eye on the websites your child uses to access games online. Look for kid-friendly sites only. Know what type of games your child plays on his gaming systems as well.
  • Pay close attention to the ratings on video games and apps. Don’t allow your child to play games that may be too graphic or violent for his age group.
  • Play games with your child. Playing games together can give you insight into what types of games your child is playing. Talk about any unhealthy messages that a game may be sending and be a good role model.
  • Limit your child’s screen time. Spending countless hours in front of a computer monitor or gaming console can take a serious toll on your child’s physical and mental health. Set reasonable limits on screen time, even when the games are non-violent.
  • Consider an occasional digital detox. Set aside time to unplug from all the digital devices. Whether it's just one weekend a month or a week or two every quarter, a digital detox could improve your child's mental health and behavior.
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