Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 12:25 pm

Do violent games make violent children? The gaming world is a booming industry that has made its mark across the globe with both the adult and adolescent populations.

But what effect does it have on mental health?

The basic principle of social learning theory proposes that “new behaviours can be acquired by observing and imitating others.”

Children learn by observing, mimicking, and adopting behaviours.  No wonder its a concern that exposure to aggressive behaviour or violence in video games may desensitize youths by numbing them emotionally. It could even cause nightmares and sleep problems, impair school performance, and lead to aggressive behaviour and bullying.

Studies have found a link between violent video games and increased aggressive thinking and behaviour in youths but how much truth there is to it in practice remains to be seen, the answer is not a linear one.

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All4women spoke to Janine Shamos, a Transformation & Resilience Coach and Trauma Counsellor, who says that the negative effects of gaming begin to show when too many hours are spent on the gaming consol.

“For kids who are already feeling isolated, angry or depressed, gaming may give them an outlet for these emotions. As we know, untreated mental health issues get worse, so the escapism into the world of games can certainly negatively affect existing psychological and behavioural issues,” says Shamos.

According to an article by the Dana Foundation, whose mission it is to understand the brain; ongoing exposure is only one of many risk factors for aggressive behaviour and violence. Various scholars point to factors like racism and ethnic hatred, certain psychiatric disorders, adverse social environments, and easy access to guns and other lethal weapons, which may be the most critical factors of all.

Beyond the concern of aggression however, incessant gaming can add to a range of issues like low self-esteem, obesity, emotional issues. It could also affect school performance and other recreational activities.

The link between gaming and psychological effects may not be directly causal says Shamos

“Kids are drawn to gaming because they feel isolated, are lonely or perhaps they don’t have real-world friends. Blaming gaming isn’t always that simple.”

“Players use video games for different reasons.  As an aversion  from daily challenges or because they enjoy the social relationships they have developed in the virtual world. We must always ask why people and specifically our kids play video games. The gaming may not cause the low self-esteem for example but it may be the reason its used so much.”

How can you tell if your child has a gaming addiction?

Parents tend to be worried their children may be “addicted” to video games. Addiction goes beyond excessive playing  though and includes issues like craving it, loss of control, and functional and behavioural consequences like lying to parents says Shamos.

In 2018, the World Health Organisation said the “gaming disorder” is characterised by diminished control over gaming activity, much like other addictions. Priority is given to gaming over other activities to the point that gaming becomes more important as opposed to other interests and daily activities.  Gaming continues incessantly despite the occurrence of negative consequences – like getting into trouble, losing friends and failing at school.

According to Shamos, “For gaming disorder to be a ‘diagnosis’, the behavioural pattern of the gamer must be severe enough that major and noticeable impairment and deterioration in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning is present for a minimum of 12 months.”

Games are fun

Shamos noted that although adults tend to view video games as isolating and antisocial, other studies found that most young respondents described the games as fun, exciting, something to counter boredom, and something to do with friends.

“For many youths, violent content is not the main draw. Boys in particular are motivated to play video games in order to compete and win. Parents can best protect their children by explaining the difference between the game and reality, highlighting the differences and talking through emotions and engaging with their kids.”

Benefits cited through gaming vary but for the most part its been known to improve focus, multitasking, and increase working memory.

 

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