The influence of violent video games on children’s behavior

Johnny and his little sister Lizzy were contently playing with Legos in their living room. After a while, Johnny asked his mom, Nina, if he could play video games for a while. He selected his new Final Fantasy game and played for nearly an hour. During that hour he virtually fought other characters, used weapons, and lost himself as he became the character he was playing in the game. When he finished, his mom suggested he go outside and play with Lizzy to get some exercise. Soon afterwards, Nina heard Lizzy crying. When she went outside to investigate what had happened, Lizzy said that Johnny had knocked her over while playing tag. Nina asked Johnny why and he responded by saying that it was just part of the game.

The change Nina saw in Johnny’s behavior after playing a violent video game was actually very typical. Recent studies show that violent video games are associated with aggressive thinking and behavior in children. School-aged children who played video games of a violent nature had more violent thoughts and displayed more violent behavior than children who didn’t play violent games. Examples of violent thoughts could be thinking it is OK to push other children or fantasize about hitting someone that they don’t like. Additionally, these children also displayed more aggressive behaviors with peers and adults after playing video games with violent content. The researchers attributed these behaviors to the consequence free environment that video games portray.

Video games, especially for male children, are a source of great pleasure and entertainment. It can be difficult for parents to find video games that are suitable for their children to play. Not all games are appropriate for all children due to the content, themes, or graphics.  And with so many games available, it is nearly impossible for parents to play the game before allowing their child to play it. Luckily, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has created an easy to understand rating system so parents know what their child is seeing when they play a video game. Europe has a similar ratings system called PEGI (Pan European Game Information). Information about the PEGI classification system can be accessed here.

This information has been copied verbatim from the ESRB’s website.  For complete information, please visit the website at www.ESRB.org

ESRB Ratings Guide

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings provide concise and objective information about the content in video games and apps so consumers, especially parents, can make informed choices. ESRB ratings have three parts:

  • Rating Categories suggest age appropriateness
  • Content Descriptors indicate content that may have triggered a particular rating and/or may be of interest or concern
  • Interactive Elements inform about interactive aspects of a product, including users’ ability to interact, the sharing of users’ location with other users, or the fact that personal information may be shared with third parties

As a supplementary source of information, boxed video games have Rating Summaries that provide a more detailed description of the content that factored into the rating assigned.

Rating Categories

EARLY CHILDHOOD Content is intended for young children.
EVERYONE Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
EVERYONE 10+ Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
TEEN Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
MATURE Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
ADULTS ONLY Content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.
RATING PENDING Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating. Appears only in advertising, marketing and promotional materials related to a game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned.
 

NOTE: Rating Category assignments can also be based upon a game or app’s minimum age requirement.

Based on the information from the ESRB and research about the effect of violent video games on children’s behavior, you can evaluate your child’s video games by looking for the ESRB or PEGI rating to sift through the large number of options available and make a more informed initial choice about a specific game. However, it is important to remember that a rating system cannot take the place of a parent’s direct interaction with the game and the response of their child after playing the game. Every family has a different level of acceptance and tolerance for video game content and each child’s reaction is unique. Regardless of the ESRB or PEGI rating, parents should give more weight to their child’s behavior in their decision about what games are appropriate.

Research has shown that children are more aggressive in thoughts and behaviors after playing video games with violent content. This connection is believed to be attributed to the fantasy world of the video game showing a consequence-free environment that allows aggressive acts to be completed without a negative outcome. Video games are part of our children’s free-time activities. They can be enjoyed in moderation with respect to each child’s unique development and sensitivity. Helping your child find video games that meet their desire for entertainment while supporting their psychological and emotional development can be achieved by learning about and using the ERSB or PEGI rating system for initial decisions and then monitoring the content of the game and your child’s reaction to the game after purchase.  If you find that a game isn’t suited for your child, you can always substitute another selection as a means to safeguard your child against unwanted behavioral changes

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About the instructor
Proactive Parenting
Dr. Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.

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