Screen Violence and Youth Behavior: New Questions

In today’s world, many parents, educators, and policymakers are asking whether video games are good or bad for children and adolescents. Indeed, it’s a topic experts have studied and talked about here on more than one occasion, agreeing, for the most part, that violent video games and media are linked to aggressive and violent behaviors in their players. But according to a new article co-written by School of Family Life professor Sarah Coyne, the question most educators and policy makers are asking—are video games good or bad for children and adolescents?—is much too simplistic. They suggest a different, more “nutrition-based” approach.

What Research Says So Far About Violent Video Games and Their Effects

Dr. Coyne and her co-authors analyzed existing meta-analyses concerning video game aggression and violence. “A large body of evidence reveals that violent media can increase aggression,” she says, citing a census study done by Common Sense Media. “Indeed, the effects of screen violence on increased aggressive behavior have been reviewed and affirmed by numerous major scientific organizations, [and] a comprehensive meta-analysis found that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiologic arousal, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavior and decreases prosocial behavior (eg, helping others) and empathy. These effects occur for male and female subjects of all ages studied, in both Western and Eastern countries.12

That being said, Dr. Coyne and her co-authors also noted that that are many potential cognitive and social benefits of video game play, and that well-designed video games can be great teachers, since they help players develop sensory processing and cognitive skills. Not all video games are violent, and of course, no risk factor taken alone can cause a child to behave aggressively.

More research is needed to truly explore the negative–and positive–effects of video games on those who play them, they say: large-scale studies of at least 50 000 participants that take into account all known major risk and resilience factors for the development of aggressive and violent behavior tendencies. The study should follow the same large sample of children from an early age through early adulthood, they recommend. They also recommend a similar large-scale, multi-site, multi-year study to further develop and test media exposure interventions to determine what works best, for policy makers and consumers to implement.

A Better Way to Think of Media Exposure?

The authors suggested thinking of media exposure as a diet. It’s important to consume media in moderation, and consumers should make sure to take in more helpful than harmful content. And, the consumer’s age has to be taken into account. In the absence of those large-scale studies, but with the evidence that has been gathered so far, they and other researchers suggest that parents can most effectively help their children and adolescents consume a healthy “diet” of video games and media by actively monitoring their use, and engaging in and conversing about media with their children, rather than strictly restricting media use. Families can also monitor media exposure by implementing simple rules and setting limits to screen time.


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