Frustrated parents who can’t seem to tear their children away from the video game console have few kind words about video games, but research shows that many of the things that parents believe about video games and the effect that gaming has on their children are more myth than fact — or are at least still up for debate.
Emerging scientific research actually indicates that playing video games can enhance certain desirable skills, including reasoning capacity, spatial skills, social interaction, and social cooperation.
So, what’s the real story?
On PBS.org, Henry Jenkins, director of comparative studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, debunks eight common myths about video games. We’ve highlighted some of Jenkins’ arguments on two of the myths, but you may find his complete essay interesting.
Myth #1. Video games are responsible for escalating youth violence.
False. Video games have been increasing in popularity since the 1970s; but, according to federal statistics, violent juvenile crime has actually been decreasing. While some teens implicated in school shootings and other violent crimes have been gamers, mental instability and home life are the biggest risk factors for antisocial behavior, according to a 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General.
Myth #2. Playing violent games provokes aggressive behavior in children and teens.
Maybe. Jenkins says most of the scientific research into game-related violence is too narrow to be conclusive and is conducted out of context, making results questionable. Violent video games may be a minor contributing factor to violent behavior, but only when other risk factors are present.
Looking at recent statistical declines, juvenile crime was still at its lowest rate since at least 1980. Plus, a study led by Joseph Hilgard of Illinois State University, with results published in Psychological Science, provided “no evidence that either violent or difficult content intensifies players’ aggression toward others.”
Yet another study, published in 2018 in Molecular Psychiatry found that playing a violent video game had no significant negative effect on a participant’s levels of aggression or their “sexist attitudes and mental health issues.”
Up for Debate: Are Video Games Addictive?
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) added “gaming disorder” to its diagnostics manual, which started a heated debate among experts, as reported on by TheGuardian.com. This debate, in part, centers on yet another study that suggests that gaming addiction, if it actually exists, is a short-term issue.
Children and Video Games
It’s encouraging (very encouraging!) to see that studies are showing that connections are not being found between video game playing and increased aggression and violence. That said, experts do recommend that parents limit screen time in children, with the Mayo Clinic pointing out how it can lead to obesity, as well as behavioral problems, drops in social skills, irregular sleep schedules and more. (They do include “violence” in their list, as well.)
They suggest that “unplugged, unstructured playtime” should be prioritized, with a ban on tech during mealtimes, homework time, and an hour before bedtime. They also suggest having one tech-free night a week in your home; keeping screens out of children’s bedrooms; eliminating the use of television as background noise; and limiting your own screen time to serve as a role model, among other recommendations.
Overall, as your children get older, they’ll increasingly see digital content that you may not have pre-approved. So, it’s important to teach them how to critically think about what they read online. Is a particular site trustworthy? Does the information they read seem accurate and reliable? Make yourself available to discuss these important issues!