Lots of parents are worried about gaming because video games have become a big part of kids’ lives—and most parents aren’t experts. The good news is that sometimes worries can be overblown and video games have benefits that parents don’t always know about. If you’re concerned about specific issues that might come up, we’ve got your back—here are the basic facts and articles we’ve curated about gaming-related topics parents might be concerned about. Each topic ends with helpful links to research from reputable organizations like the American Pediatric Association.
Most people are able to manage their gaming time and balance it with the time they devote to other things, like work, exercise, relationships, and sleep. But some people game too much as a way to cope with depression, anxiety, or other problems. And some people spend so much time gaming that it hurts their relationships, their work lives, or their physical or mental health. This is sometimes called pathological gaming. Some experts believe pathological gaming can qualify as an official addiction, but others don’t. Most experts agree that extreme cases of pathological gaming are very rare. And all the experts agree that the issue of pathological gaming deserves further study.
Do video games cause violence? Some studies have found a link between gaming and aggressive feelings, while other studies suggest that video gaming helps people deal with depression or manage their natural aggressive feelings. Most experts agree that no one has proven a causal link between gaming and violent behavior. Rates of criminal behavior have been decreasing as video game sales have increased, and a recent study even found that increased sales of violent games were correlated with a reduction in violent crime. One thing we can all agree on is that kids should not be exposed to violent games that are inappropriate for their age and level of development. To check whether games are appropriate for their kids, parents should refer to ESRB ratings and reviews, try the games before letting their kids play them, or play the games alongside their kids. Our Game Picker is another great resource for parents seeking detailed information on specific video games.
Sources of more information:
- What Science Knows About Video Games and Violence (PBS)
- Why Two-Hundred-Twenty-Eight Scholars Cautioned the APA
- Violent Video Games May Increase Aggression in Some But Not Others, Says New Research
- Shooting in the Dark
- The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence?
- Violent Video Games, Catharsis Seeking, Bullying, and Delinquency: A Multivariate Analysis of Effects
- Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development
Can video games harm your health? Yes, but they can also help improve your health. Too much time sitting in front of any screen (playing video games, surfing the net, or watching TV) can lead to weight gain. People have also suffered muscle pain, repetitive stress injuries, and eye strain from gaming too much or for long periods. On the other hand, games with motion sensors—sports games, exercise games, dancing games, and even fighting games, for example—can give you a good workout. Exercise gaming (or “exergaming”) seems to have particular benefits for older adults who find it difficult to leave their homes. As with most activities, balance and moderation are important, and kids need special rules. The American Academy of Pediatrics says “excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.” Many recent studies note that video games are good at motivating you to exercise and stick with it, especially if you’re gaming with family and friends.
Too much gaming can lead to social isolation. But gaming is an increasingly social pursuit. Many people play online games where they make and keep friends for years. In fact, people who have met in games have even ended up dating in real life and getting married. Some gamers use gaming as a way to spend time with distant family and friends. People with mobility issues can sometimes interact socially in a game environment in ways they can’t in real life. And people with learning differences or disabilities such as autism can benefit from video games that teach skills like facial recognition, planning, organizing, and self-monitoring. A recent study differentiates between gamers who suffer social isolation and gamers who don’t: the gamers who organize their lives around their games are the ones who tend to have social problems. Again, balance is key.
Sources of more information:
Gender and Sexuality
You might be concerned that games can expose kids to too much sexual content or worry that kids are being exposed to negative messages about gender. While games don’t necessarily differ from other media in these regards, there are some specific issues that come up frequently. We have a series on sex and sexuality in video games that offers information on what types of games typically include sexual content and how to talk to kids about sex and sexuality in games. We also discuss gender representation frequently, since it’s true that many games score badly on that count. But don’t despair! There are plenty of games that are making great strides in this area, and Pixelkin is invested in bringing those games to the forefront.
It’s important to note that games are a great way for kids to experiment with different roles and identities, and that includes gender and sexual identities. That doesn’t mean they’re pursuing relationships with other people—rather, they might be roleplaying a different facet of their life in a safe environment. Make sure to talk to kids about negative online interactions, but also be aware that much of this experimentation is normal and healthy.