KidsPrimary School

The hard facts: Do violent video games create violent kids?

Exposure to violence in the form of video games may desensitise your child and even impact their sleep, school performance, and behaviour.

The gaming world is a booming industry that has made its mark across the globe with both the adult and adolescent populations. But what effect does it have on mental health?

We chat with Janine Shamos, a Transformation & Resilience Coach and Trauma Counsellor, on the effects of gaming on kids.

“For kids who are already feeling isolated, angry, or depressed, gaming may give them an outlet for these emotions. As we know, untreated mental health issues get worse, so the escapism into the world of games can certainly negatively affect existing psychological and behavioural issues,” says Shamos.

According to an article by the Dana Foundation, ongoing exposure is only one of many risk factors for aggressive behaviour and violence. Various scholars point to factors like racism and ethnic hatred, certain psychiatric disorders, adverse social environments, and easy access to guns and other lethal weapons, which may be the most critical factors of all.

Beyond the concern of aggression, however, incessant gaming can add to a range of issues like low self-esteem, obesity, emotional issues. It could also affect school performance and other recreational activities.

The link between gaming and psychological effects may not be directly causal, says Shamos.

“Kids are drawn to gaming because they feel isolated, are lonely, or perhaps they don’t have real-world friends. Blaming gaming isn’t always that simple. Players use video games for different reasons.  As an aversion to daily challenges or because they enjoy the social relationships they have developed in the virtual world. We must always ask why people and specifically our kids play video games. The gaming may not cause low self-esteem, for example, but it may be the reason it’s used so much.”

How can you tell if your child has a gaming addiction?

Parents tend to be worried their children may be addicted to video games. Addiction goes beyond excessive playing though and includes issues like craving it, loss of control, and functional and behavioural consequences like lying to parents. In 2018, the World Health Organisation said ‘gaming disorder’ is characterised by diminished control over gaming activity, much like other addictions.

Priority is given to gaming over other activities to the point that gaming becomes more important than other interests and daily activities.  Gaming continues incessantly despite negative consequences – like getting into trouble, losing friends, and failing at school.

According to Shamos, “For gaming disorder to be a ‘diagnosis’, the behavioural pattern of the gamer must be severe enough that major and noticeable impairment and deterioration in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning is present for a minimum of 12 months.”

Games can be fun

Shamos noted that although adults view video games as isolating and antisocial, other studies found that most young respondents described the games as fun, exciting, something to counter boredom, and something to do with friends. “For many youths, violent content is not the main draw.

Boys, in particular, are motivated to play video games to compete and win. Parents can best protect their children by explaining the difference between the game and reality, highlighting the differences and talking through emotions and engaging with their kids.”  

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