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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Video Game Violence

Q. Do you feel that the violence subjected in video games affects those who play it to become more aggressive and violent?

A. I don't see children in my practice, so I can only speak from an indirect perspective--but yes, I do believe that watching violent programming and/or video games does affect the way children view aggression and violence. I don't believe either TV or video games can make an ordinary, well-balanced, well-loved child violent--but in kids who are already on the edge because of genetics, family problems, etc., I think these violent games can sometimes tip the balance. And even if violent video games don't stimulate violent behavior, I do think they produce a kind of emotional numbing in frequent viewers, so that violence becomes more acceptable and normalized.

But, is there any evidence for all these pronouncements and suspicions? It turns out, the answer is some. Recently, Villani (J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2001 Apr;40(4):392-401) performed a ten-year review of literature regarding the impact of media on children and adolescents. Media categories researched included television and movies, rock music and music videos, advertising, video games, and computers and the Internet. The author concluded that, "The primary effects of media exposure are increased violent and aggressive behavior, increased high-risk behaviors, including alcohol and tobacco use, and accelerated onset of sexual activity. The newer forms of media have not been adequately studied, but concern is warranted through the logical extension of earlier research on other media forms and the amount of time the average child spends with increasingly sophisticated media."

Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education recently reviewed the data (Pediatrics 2001 Nov;108(5):1222-6) and concluded, "The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, as a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed."

Nay-sayers may find fault with the methods and inferences drawn from this research, but it all seems very plausible to me. What to do? I think it's impossible to shield kids from every possible exposure to violence in the media. Parents need to spend as much time as possible monitoring and explaining what their children watch on TV or in videos, helping them put violence in the proper moral and psychological context. For example, "Joey, just because you see somebody hit another person on TV doesn't make it right... it doesn't matter if it's a cartoon or a video character. There are better ways to deal with anger" etc.

July 2002

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