While playing video games offers children benefits such as improved motor skills, it has also been tagged as a factor in social and behavioral problems. A 2015 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) stated that playing violent video games increases "aggressive behavior, decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity. The APA report, however, also emphasized that "there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence," said Mark Appelbaum, Ph.D., the task force chair.
Now, a new study joins the hotly contested topic, but it downplays the link between violent video games and aggressive behavior.
The new study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, looked into 196 children from the Netherlands. The kids and their parents were asked to answer a survey about their gaming habits, exposure to "violent" games, and mental-health related outcomes, including aggression. The kids were about 9 years old when they were first assessed, and a follow-up was made a year later.
Overall, the researchers found that playing violent video games at age 9 did not result in aggressive or less positive social behaviors after a year. It also did not find a link between playing 'violent' video games and mental health issues such as attention problems.
What it did find, albeit small, was a link to increased mood symptoms like depression and anxiety.
Another study, published in the Frontiers, looked at adults males playing first-person shooter games and its effect on a person's ability to empathize.Researchers used MRI scans to gauge a person's emotional response to images, and found that there was no significant difference between gamers and non-gamers. The same results were evident in the questionnaires the participants answered.
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Now, again, it needs to be stressed that this study doesn't give parents the go-ahead to let their kids play violent video games or indulge in any violent media for that matter. "Parents should be particularly attentive to potential increases in children’s internalizing problems as a result of video game playing,” Adam Lobel and his colleges wrote.
The point is we need to set limits, and parental supervision is crucial when it comes to gadgets and screen time. And you need to set them the second you allow your kids access to games, apps, and the like. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following guidelines, aside from setting limits:
Filter what kind of games your child plays and using reviews such as those by Common Sense Media.
Play with your child so you can explain possbile confusing scenes, answer their questions, and give guidance.
Encourage more positive games and interaction with peers.
Note also that aggressive behavior is not caused by one thing but a combination of several factors. Observe and spot signs of depression or anxiety early on. "Playing excessively even compared to other kids (could be a sign that it's) time for parents just to check in and make sure everything is okay," writes Christopher J. Ferguson, psychology professor and media effects researcher on The Huffington Post. Talk to your child about it to prevent any lasting effect on his socio-emotional wellbeing.
The APA researchers had pinpointed three motivating factors why kids love video games: a need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. It could be a big help for parents if they redirect these motivations to other activities. Find your child’s strengths and capitalize on them, give them opportunities to make their own decisions, and help him foster good friendships. And you know what? Sometimes it's good for our kids to be bored.