Violent video games – the myths and the facts
Surprising results from a new study about kids and video games.
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But for parents who are contemplating throwing out their son’s Wii, wait a minute: The research showed that boys who don’t play video games at all were the most likely to engage in bullying and other antisocial behaviors. That may be because video games are such an important part of socializing for that age, Kutner and Olson say, that these boys are, by definition, “abnormal.” Here again, Kutner says, there’s no proof of causality. “[We’re not saying] ‘Oh just have a video game, and he’ll be fine.’ No, it doesn’t work that way.”Skip to next paragraph
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So, what can parents do, besides throw up their hands and grab the joystick? Actually, Kutner and Olson say that playing the games with your child is an excellent idea, for many reasons. For one, 12-year-olds love being able to trounce their parents at something.
For another, parent and child will be able to have meaningful conversation while playing – whether about video games or not. (Children at that age find it much easier to talk to a parent if they aren’t facing them.) And if a parent finds something that concerns him in the game, a child may listen more thoughtfully than if the parent just issues a blanket refusal to allow future playing, Olson says.
However, parents should be aware that not all video games are equal, and that ratings do not tell the whole story. Manhunt and Postal “are two games that no child should ever go near,” says Olson. And she views DefJam Vendetta, a T[een]-rated game, with a dim eye, because of its portrayal of women.
Finally, Kutner says, “We advise parents not to have [game] consoles in a child’s bedroom. You should be able to see what they’re doing; it should be in a public place. Plus, they’ll be able to sleep at night.” Nor should children have televisions in their room, they add.
In their book, Kutner and Olson compare video games to other juvenile media – such as comic books – that caused parents of earlier generations sleepless nights. Although, they note, because video games are nonlinear, parents can’t easily flip through to make sure a particular game is appropriate for their child. “It could take 15 hours of play” to vet a game, and you still might not find the one scene that might make your hair stand on end, Kutner says.
Other experts say that parents should feel free to go slow. “Why do you want something to be tested on your kid? There’s good reason for parents to be a little skeptical,” says Maria Krcmar, a professor of communication at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She says the scientific community is about a decade away from conclusive understanding about the effects of video games on children.
“It might turn out that video games are completely fine,” Dr. Krcmar adds, although she doesn’t see that happening. If parents don’t let their child play them, “what have they really missed out on?”
But for those parents who simply won’t let their children have video games at home, Olson says, “total denial doesn’t work.” There’s a good chance the child will just find somewhere else to play them. “It’s like saying, ‘We don’t allow books in our house.’ The medium is not good or bad, it’s how you make use of those games.”