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The Effect of Video Games on Children

By — Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

What impact does playing video games have on children or adolescents?

The most widely used "positive" impact video games are said to have on children is that they may improve a player's manual dexterity and computer literacy. Ever-improving technology also provides players with better graphics that give a more "realistic" virtual playing experience.

This quality makes the video game industry a powerful force in many adolescent lives. However, numerous studies show that video games, especially ones with violent content, adversely affect a teen's aggressive behavior.

Part of the increase in aggressive behavior is linked to the amount of time children are allowed to play video games. In one study by Walsh (2000), a majority of teens admitted that their parents do not impose a time limit on the number of hours they are allowed to play video games. The study also showed that most parents are unaware of the content or the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating (see below) of the video games their children play.

In another study conducted by Gentile, Lynch, Linder & Walsh (2004, p.6) "adolescent girls played video games for an average of 5 hours a week whereas boys averaged 13 hours a week". The authors also stated that teens who play violent video games for extended periods of time show the following behaviors:

  1. Tend to be more aggressive
  2. Are more prone to confrontation with their teachers
  3. May engage in fights with their peers
  4. See a decline in school achievements. (Gentile et al, 2004).

    Another negative impact is that players are rewarded for their violent acts. The interactive quality of video games differs from passively viewing television or movies because it allows players to become active participants in the game's script. Players benefit from engaging in acts of violence and are then able to move to the game's next level.

    Gentile & Anderson (2003) state that playing video games may increase aggressive behavior because violent acts are continually repeated throughout the video game. This method of repetition has long been considered an effective teaching method in reinforcing learning patterns.

    Video games also encourage players to identify with and role play their favorite characters. This is referred to as a "first-person" video game (Anderson & Dill, 2000, p. 788) because players are able to make decisions affecting the actions of the character they are imitating. After a limited amount of time playing a violent video game, a player can "automatically prime aggressive thoughts" (Bushman & Anderson, 2002, p. 1680). The researchers concluded that players who had prior experience playing violent video games responded with an increased level of aggression when they encountered confrontation (Bushman & Anderson, 2002).

    In a Joint Statement (2000) before the Congressional Public Health Summit, a number of American medical associations -- the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry -- caution parents about violence in the media and its negative effect on children. Their report states that exposure to violent media can elevate aggressive feelings and thoughts, especially in children. These effects on aggressive behavior can be long-term. Although fewer studies have been conducted on interactive video games, evidence suggests that playing violent video games may have a more dramatic influence on the behavior of children and adolescents (Joint Statement, 2000).
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