Since the inception of video games, and all creative media for that matter, we as a society have questioned what type of content is acceptable for children and young adults. At what age is it okay for children to be exposed to violence and other possibly adult themes? Will this exposure lead to deviant behavior? Here’s a look at the issue and suggestions for what point parental intervention may be necessary.
Monitoring Video Games & Talking to Your Child
Of course, we would expect that most children can suss out the difference between fiction and reality, but unless we ask we just don’t know if that is the truth in every instance. That is why it is so important to talk to your child about the types of games they are playing. Just as anyone would monitor TV shows or movies that could potentially contain adult content that a child cannot comprehend, video games are just the same.
Questions like “How does this game make you feel?” or “What do you like about this game?” can trigger the types of responses necessary to determine your child’s draw toward their games.
Kids should never learn about adult themes from a video game. This information can be completely skewed, satirical, and inconclusive, which means your child will fill in the blanks with whatever makes sense to them, instead of the facts.
Age Restrictions Exist for a Reason
Studies have shown that children, middle school aged or younger, who play games with a Mature (17+) rating have exhibited more bullying, violent, or aggressive behavior. Still, this isn’t to say that the video game made the child more violent. They may be mimicking behavior from the game or other friends or gamers that they interact with online. There is no scientific data that proves that any source of media, video games, tv, movies, or otherwise suddenly physically changes a child’s mental behaviors.
Just as movie ratings exist in order to give the parent control over their child’s viewing habits, game ratings exist for the very same reason. It is a parent’s responsibility to know their child and understand the level of comprehension for violent behavior that their particular child can grasp.
In addition, studies that have concluded increased violent behavior do not test for other factors whatsoever. No mental or behavioral tests are performed before the tests starts to recognize if cognitive illnesses are already present. What’s more, these tests do not represent real life play. The subjects are made to play video games for only a few minutes, then go about their daily lives. This hardly seems conclusive as to whether the game has made an impact on a fragile psyche or if the child would have exhibited the behavior anyway.
Know The Signs of a Problem
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey in 2010 which found that on average kids age 8 to 18 devote 7 ½ hours a day to all forms of entertainment. Less than half of the children that participated said their parents have rules about what they are allowed to watch or play.
Surprisingly or not, people can become addicted to just about anything. Something that makes our bodies and minds feel good may make us want to continue that action over and over. Certainly, drugs and games are not one in the same, but addiction shows the same symptoms regardless of the medium.
Any abrupt change in behavior in your child is a sign that there may be a problem. Things like, a sudden drop in grades, changes in appearance or self-care, or sudden mood swings can all mean that a larger problem is at play. After all the point of video games is to learn and have fun, not to develop and unhealthy relationship or tendencies as a result of their play.
What to Do if My Child is Violent?
If you find your child mimicking behaviors in their video game as if they were real, it’s time to have a talk with that child. As previously mentioned, discussing the seriousness of any actions performed in a video game (real or not) is essential to your child differentiating the game from reality.
For example, if your 7 year old child watches a movie with bullying in it they may not understand why this is an unaccepted behavior. They may need you to explain just why someone would do that and why it is harmful to others.
If the behavior persists, it may be time to seek professional help. There may possibly be an underlying mental issue that is disabling the child from removing themselves from the gaming experience.
In conclusion, it would appear that video games (or any other media for that matter) do not have the power to change a child’s personality or behavior overnight. A child with a possible addiction problem and/or mental illness tend to exhibit signs of this behavior long before violent video games ever enter the picture.
Trisha is a writer from Boise, ID. She is a dedicated vegan who promotes an all-around healthy lifestyle. You can find her on twitter @thatdangvegan or check out her blog thatdangvegan.com