Arguments against video games aren’t exactly news. In the early 80s, then-United States Surgeon General C. Everett Koop spoke out against the health hazards that video games may have for young children. Dr. Koop acknowledged that he had no concrete evidence that video games had negative effects, but predicted that there soon would be. Decades later, Dr. Koop’s prediction is a reality, and the scientific community has found that video games may have mental and physical health consequences for kids.
Violence and Aggression
The consequence of violence in video games is a major, if not the top, effect that many parents worry about. While there’s no doubt that video games include and often promote violent behaviors, the research is mixed on whether or not they actually influence the child. Violence and aggression don’t have one root cause. Saying that violent video games are the cause of violent kids is misleading. While children who play violent video games may act violently, these behaviors come from complex interactions between the biology and environment, according to researcher Christopher J. Ferguson in the journal American Psychologist.
Some of the research points to video games increasing aggression, and not violent criminal acts. A 2011 study found that video games may desensitize players to violence, resulting in increased aggression, according to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Whether there is violent content or not, video games can have negative effects on your child’s overall health. Spending time in front of a screen contributes to a sedentary, often unhealthy, lifestyle, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal Pediatrics. Your child needs at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity every day, notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Siting passively in front of a video means that your child isn’t exercising, and he’s not getting in the activity that’s necessary for good health. This in turn could lead to your child putting on weight or heading towards obesity.
There was a time when playing video games meant that the child sat alone, with little or no social interaction. With the greater connectivity that the Internet allows, this isn’t always true anymore. While the social aspect of connecting in video game play on line can be a positive, it can also adversely affect your child.
Your child can connect with real-life school friends or anyone who says that they’re a "friend" online. This lets just about anyone into your child’s life. Internet predators may pose as children or teens, friending your child. To reduce the risk, talk to your child about online interactions. Explain that not everyone is who they say they are. Make strict rules for who your child can, and can’t, play games with. If the game or the game system has parental controls, use these to block anyone who your family doesn’t personally know. This allows your child to play with real-world pals, but not questionable kids from the Internet.
Differences Among Games
Not all video games are equal when it comes to the negative effects. For example, sitting on a couch playing a war game isn’t the same as moving around during physical fitness play. Active video games that require your child to move and get physical can actually help to reduce the risk of obesity, according to a 2013 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity. It’s not necessarily the video game that is causing problems. In reality, it’s the type of video game and how your child plays it.
The Parent's Role
The home environment also contributes – or reduces – the negative effects that video games have. Talking to your child about the video game’s content, helping her to choose games that aren’t sedentary or don’t promote violence and setting rules for how much time she can spend in front of the screen can all help to mediate the negative impact, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.