In our overstimulated world of social media, digital devices, and video game addiction, one has to wonder about the connections between how we spend our screen time and the increased levels of violence we are seeing in this country. Every parent of a teen with a video game addiction can tell you that behaviors change when teens are exposed to hours and hours of violence while feeding their habit.
What constitutes a video game addiction?
Video game addiction is an impulse control disorder, which does not involve the use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling. Video game addiction has also been referred to as video game overuse, pathological or compulsive/excessive use of computer games and/or video games.
Those suffering from video game addiction may use the Internet to access massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and multi-user domain games (MUDs). MMORPGs are networks of people, from all over the world, interacting with one another to play a game to accomplish missions and reach high scores. MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, fighting, and killing in a social chat channel with limited graphics.
Similar to other addictions, individuals suffering from video game addiction use the virtual fantasy world to connect with real people through the Internet, as a substitution for real-life human connection. Some suffering from video game addiction may develop an emotional attachment to on-line friends and activities they create on their computer screens. Those suffering from video game addiction may enjoy aspects of the online games that allow them to meet, socialize, and exchange ideas without the fear of face to face rejection.
Because some games require a large number of players to log on simultaneously, for long durations of time, players may feel an obligation and build loyalty to other players. This may further the individual’s justification of his/her use and sense of relationship with other players, who are in fact strangers.
Statistics show that men and boys are more likely to become addicted to video games versus women and girls. Recent research has found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers (ages 8-18) can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming.
Parents of teens who play video games, computer games, or games on handheld devices like cell phones, need to take a look at the child’s overall functioning at home, at school, socially, and their mental or psychological functioning.
Video game designers create the games to be highly engaging and to encourage the user to keep playing. Children especially can have a very hard time stopping once they get stuck in the positive feedback loops these games create. Here are some things to watch for that might mean your child’s video game use is becoming a video game addiction:
- Your child’s life seems to be dominated by video games. They seem to be the only motivator and occupy the majority of his or her thinking. The child talks non-stop about video games when not playing them and spends a lot of time learning about them or planning the next opportunity to play.
- Your child’s social interactions inside and outside of the home have been negatively impacted—friendships have dwindled, your child has withdrawn from social activities, and family relationships are strained or suffering.
- Your child’s grades are failing, or hygiene is chronically neglected because of video game use.
- Stopping video games for any reason has a long-lasting negative impact on your child’s emotions. He or she becomes depressed, moody, angry, aggressive or violent when unable to play.
- Your child has stolen video games from stores or friends, or stolen money from others in order to buy video games, more than once. There is frequent lying about the number of hours spent gaming.
So, what can you do to limit your child’s video game playing and create healthy boundaries around it? For some of you, this will be more challenging than for others. Some kids are much more deeply involved with video games and setting limits in these cases will be harder.
And while video game addiction is in and of itself quite a serious problem, parents must also consider the effect violent video games have on impressionable children.
Violence in Gaming
According to the American Psychological Association, two features of video games have engaged the interest of researchers, administrators, and parents. First, the active role required by video games is a double-edged sword. It helps educational video games be excellent teaching tools for motivational and learning process reasons. But, it also may make violent video games even more hazardous than violent television or cinema.
Second, the arrival of a new generation of ultraviolent video games beginning in the early 1990s and continuing to the present resulted in large numbers of youths actively participating in entertainment violence.
Recent video games reward players for killing innocent bystanders, shooting police officers, and killing prostitutes, using a wide range of weapons including guns, knives, flame throwers, swords, baseball bats, and cars. In some, the player can assume the role of hero or criminal.
While many in the mainstream media disregard the science, the link between violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior is one of the most studied and best established. Since the earliest analyses, this link continues to be a reliable finding and shows consistency across various representations of both violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior.
Aggressive behavior by kids with video game addiction has been adequately studied and the results may not be great in the eyes of the media, but the truth is that video game addiction can be linked to violence.
Connecting Video Game Addiction and Violence
Some studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a link to lung cancer. But when we combine all pertinent empirical studies, five separate effects are uncovered consistently. Violent video games are significantly associated with increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased helping behavior.
High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school, and violent criminal behavior. There is some evidence that highly aggressive individuals are more affected by violence in video games than nonaggressive individuals, but this finding is questionable.
But, even nonaggressive individuals are consistently affected by brief exposures.
Cartoonish and fantasy violence is often perceived (incorrectly) as safe even for young children. However, experimental studies with college students have consistently found increased aggression after exposure to clearly unrealistic and fantasy violent video games.
Media violence scholars now have a clear picture of how media violence increases aggression in short and long term contexts. Immediately after exposure to media violence, there is an increase in aggressive behavior tendencies because of several factors:
- Aggressive thoughts increase, which in turn increase the likelihood that a mild provocation could be interpreted as hostile.
- Aggressive affect increases.
- General arousal (e.g., heart rate) increases, which tends to increase the dominant behavioral tendency.
- Direct imitation of recently observed aggressive behaviors sometimes occurs.
Repeated media violence exposure increases aggression across the lifespan because of several related factors:
- It emphasizes positive attitudes, beliefs, and expectations regarding aggression.
- It creates aggressive behavioral scripts and makes them more accessible.
- It decreases the accessibility of nonviolent scripts.
- It decreases the normal negative emotional reactions to conflict, aggression, and violence.
When a video game addiction is mixed with non-stop violent and aggressive behaviors, people are put at high risk – particularly young siblings of teens with video game addiction. It’s not that the older siblings have hatred for the younger siblings; the younger siblings are simply a convenient place to take out the aggression and rage they have built up after hours of playing violent games.
This should not only be a concern for parents, but for anyone associated with kids who are addicted to violent video games (teachers, doctors, family members). So, it comes down to whether or not there is a solution to this crisis.
Is there a solution?
Like many matters with children, breaking your child’s video game addiction will be very difficult. Once you have determined that a video game addiction exists, it is critical to stop it in its tracks for your child to have the best chance at breaking the addiction.
1. Start Off Slowly
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting video games to one hour per day. But, start off slowly. It is more likely to be successful if you wean your child off the games – just like quitting drugs cold turkey leads to withdrawal. If a child has become accustomed to unlimited access to video games, suddenly taking the games away can lead to violent and aggressive outbursts.
2. Be Specific
Make the guidelines you are going to use to determine if video games are allowed very clear and specific. For example, if you are going from unlimited gaming to one hour per day, create a schedule that indicates how much time the child will be reducing play each week and offer alternative activities to engage in. Also tell your child that certain games will be removed as the time is reduced and no new games with violent content will be allowed to be purchased.
3. Problem Solve
Work with your child to find a new technique to try to shut down the video games in a timely fashion. For example, maybe you discuss the idea of your child avoiding certain highly engaging games at certain times or set up a reward system for turning the game off without any kind of outburst. Also consider how your child can cope with the unpleasant feelings caused by stopping the game or discuss what other fun activities there are to engage in.
4. Be Empowered
Most game systems do come with parental controls. In fact, the Xbox is equipped with a family timer. You can program the console to shut itself off after the allotted gaming hours have been used up!
Before your child becomes embroiled in a video game addiction, learn about parental controls and other family features on game systems. Teach your kids that video games are a fun means of entertainment and that violent games will never be allowed in your home.
5. Determine What Other Support You Need
If any of the above examples sound like your child, or if your child becomes destructive, aggressive, violent, or threatening when you try to enforce or set limits on their gaming, you should consult a counselor or family therapist at a facility like Beachside. They can help show you how to effectively enforce your limits with your child.
Antisocial—and in the Basement
Setting up clear structure for your kids—limiting their time on games or having a clear off-time, with some logical consequences – is going to be the most successful way to break your child of a video game addiction. Some parents find it helpful to establish regular “family time” for board games, cards, playing together outside, or watching a movie together. You could also encourage your child to participate in some sort of group activity once per week.
The key here is simple: let your child choose the activity. Until they have made a choice of activity, you might restrict their game use to encourage time outside the home. Once they choose and begin an activity, let them know they don’t get access to video games if they miss a scheduled practice or meeting.
Since every child is different, there is no one correct approach to take when changing their video game habits. Some children are able to shift into different activities more easily, while others are more vulnerable targets for the addictive design of the games. When it comes down to it, you know your kids and your family. Do what you feel is right.
Video game addiction and violence have been linked in multiple studies over the past several decades. Current research suggests there is a definite link between violent video games and violent behavior. Even games rated E for Everyone can have components of violence in them.
If your child meets the criteria for video game addiction, decide how bad it is, if you need professional intervention, and what can you, as a parent, do to break this dangerous addiction.
If you or a teenager you love appears to be showing an increased interest in video games alongside age-inappropriate aggression, consider getting treatment at a residential facility like ours. The trained medical and therapeutic professionals at Beachside can help to diagnose the problem, determine the root cause, and help with management and recovery.