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Sensible Policy on Video Games


Q. We have daughters, not sons, and I'm glad, because I hate to see some of the awful, violent video games that boys are playing these days. They're scary! What does science know about the impact on their personalities from all these "war" and "killing" games?


Yes, violent video games can increase aggressive behavior in children and adolescents, according to a review of the last 20 years of research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. The group has 150,000 members, many of whom cite aggression as a key problem in their individual practices. These video games are making aggression worse, both in the short term, and in the long run. And you're right: this is scary.


According to researchers Jessica Nicoll and Kevin M. Kieffer of Saint Leo University, youth who played violent video games for a short time, as few as 10 minutes, experienced an increase in aggressive behavior following the video game.


In another study of over 600 eighth- and ninth-graders, the youth who spent more time playing violent video games were rated by their teachers as more hostile than other children in the study. The children who played more violent video games had more arguments with authority figures and were more likely to be involved in physical altercations with other students. They also performed more poorly on academic tasks.


Furthermore, violent video game players "tend to imitate the moves that they just 'acted out' in the game they played," said Dr. Kieffer of the Saint Leo University study. For example, children who played violent karate games duplicated this type of behavior while playing with friends.


These findings demonstrate the possible dangers associated with playing this type of video game over and over again.


The authors also found that boys tend to play video games for longer periods of time than girls. Boys may play more of these types of video games, said Kieffer, because women are portrayed in subordinate roles and the girls may find less incentive to play. But those girls who did play violent video games, according to the review, were more likely to prefer playing with an aggressive toy and were more aggressive when playing.


Finally, children and adolescents who are attracted to the violent content in the games are likely to be more vulnerable to the effects of that exposure, according to the review.

Nicoll and Kieffer approve of putting age limits and rating systems on games to make it more difficult for young children to purchase and play them. But, say the psychologists, "future research needs to explore why many children and adolescents prefer to play a violent video game rather than play outside, and why certain personalities are drawn to these types of games."


Homework: A parent is supposed to do what's in the child's best interests, not necessarily what's popular. So in the case of violent video games, especially in view of the direct connection to aggressive, anti-social behavior, a smart parent should ban their child from playing them. That's not censorship; only the government can censor anything. Parents, on the other hand, can be selective in what influences they allow into their child's heart and mind. That's not censorship: that's sensible! That means telling the parents of your child's friends about your decision, too, so that your child doesn't just go over to his friends' houses to play. That will make you even MORE unpopular. But too bad. It's the right thing to do. For more about this controversy, see


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 137 2008***

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