In A Rush?
When it comes to video games, I’m the cranky, old man that starts phrases with “when I was your age…” My audience is kids in the children’s hospital I work at, and in my defense, I’m right. In my day, we were captivated by the intensity of Excite Bike, every sleepover involved Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, and NFL Sunday was always followed by a recreation on Nintendo’s Tecmo Bowl.
I get it. Times change, technology advances, and nostalgia of NBA Jam can’t save me when a 7-year old is spoon-feeding me pity points on Nintendo Wii’s NBA2K13. But moving away from my infatuation of Final Fantasy VII or Mario Kart 64’s mechanics lies another reason for my scrutiny of modern video games: the heightened involvement and realistic violence can outright mess with our youth’s minds.
There ARE several games that can challenge children, encourage physical activity, and teach analytical skills. Minecraft, games with a micro-economy, such as Zoo Tycoon, and all those dance games on the Wii are amazing. But reality check is that violent video games may draw your kids in more than Farming Simulator 15. Yes, this is a real game and even though I’m told it’s fun, the title is about as exciting as wool socks.
On this National Video Games Day (I still don’t understand why everything has a day but whatever), I ask parents – yes parents, not kids – to use common sense when it comes to your children’s video game habits.
Research shows that the association between on-screen violence and real-world aggression may be stronger than the association between secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer. Translation: it’s a big deal. This is why pediatricians and parents alike are starting to make media “diets” for kids. Assessing both quantity and content of video games should be a routine feature of well-child exams. Children under the age of 6 have difficulties distinguishing fantasy from reality so be mindful about letting your kindergartner shoot terrorists in Call of Duty.
Old man rant: The hardest shooter of our day was Duck Hunt. That laughing dog still makes me angry.
Another veteran gamer’s tip: If your child builds a bedroom bunker to play video games for 8 hours a night while making virtual friends on World of Warcraft instead of real ones, this may warrant a conversation. Children with “problematic gaming behaviors” can experience depression, anxiety, social phobias and lower school performances and my gut reaction is “No #$%!” If you sense there’s a problem, there may be. Chat with your kids!
Even non-pathologic gaming can be an indication of attention problems. Researchers found that “children who exceeded the 2 hours per day of screen time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be above average in attention problems”. Solution? Do what my Indian parents did in the early 90’s: Ensure schoolwork is on point, monitor your kid’s behavior, and demand they do a multiplication times table in under 60 seconds. Maybe not the latter but it worked on me.
Back to violent games – My childhood favorites were Super Mario Brothers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Legend of Zelda. Today, you can hardly call these games “violent.” Instead of saving Hyrule Kingdom or rescuing Princess Peach Toadstool, you can unleash war on drug cartels and assault prostitutes with a baseball bat in Grand Theft Auto. 100% of people know this isn’t a suitable game for young kids but sadly, 100% of people also know how wildly fun these games are. In the real world, when you’re in a traffic jam, you can’t drive on the sidewalk, while shooting out the windows of other cars. But in Grand Theft Auto, you can play out this unlawful desire all day.
Here’s the skinny, you can’t trust your child alone to make responsible decisions with video games or even abide by your rules. I played the original Grand Theft Auto almost every single day in junior high. I shot everything and ran pedestrians over. Based on the innocent cover, I’m pretty sure my parents thought it was just a mundane driving game.
I don’t mean to solely pick on the GTA series. There are numerous other games that may be unsuitable for little ones. The main point is that parents today have a lot more monitoring to do and should employ several strategies such as:
- Check the ESRB ratings on video games to get a sense of what’s in store for little Timmy.
- Play their kids’ video games to see what it’s like. Just don’t get caught pulling all-nighters.
- Place video consoles and computers in common areas of the home, rather than in children’s bedrooms. BONUS: This will help little ones get a necessary 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Ensure your children are engaging in physical activity and making real friends. This seems like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised.
What’s My Point?