6 Reasons Violent Video Games Are Bad for Young Brains

Family Matters on 06.07.12
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Photo: Laura St. John / Discovery Kids Puterbugs

As my little jedi knights have a Star Wars lightsaber war behind me as I start to write this, I get worried thinking about the day that their real-life fascination for shooting and blasting things will meet their virtual counterpart: violent video games.

As co-creator of an online educational game series for kids that goes up to age eight, I've become really comfortable in my innocent world of clean, ad-free, safe characters. But now my soon-to-be eight year old is at the cusp -- and he knows other kids his age whose parents let them play anything -- so I dug a little deeper to find out what these violent video games could be doing to our kids, without so many of us even knowing it.

The Dirt

Here are my top six reasons why we should unplug from violent video games:

1. De-sensitizes killing. The thought of my little boys picking up a gun to shoot someone is not only disgusting, it teaches them to disrespect life. What if that could carry over to their own life?

2. Mean to women. I already live in a house with a manly husband and three little boys, so I have enough testosterone to deal with on a daily basis. Many of these ultra-violent games foster violence toward women -- something I definitely don't want them to carry over to how they may treat me -- or your daughters, who may someday be their future girlfriends.

3. Inappropriate sexual content. For the same reason we don't let our youngsters watch a rated-R movie, many of the latest violent games have sexual content and nudity. I don't know about you, but I don't want my boys to learn about the birds and the bees through a game.

4. Explicit language. I knew my son was guilty of playing a violent game when one day he said, "Oh, sh@#!" I asked him where he learned that word, and he said, "I played Call of Duty." Enough said.

5. Bad conflict resolution skills. Violent video games show kids how to express themselves physically, through violence. It's already way easier for a child to push another child when they're angry than to express their emotions and resolve a conflict through words. My boys have their fair share of quarrels, but I don't want them to learn they should resolve conflict through violence.

6. Measures success through killing. What kind of message does it send to our kids when they get rewarded with points by killing people? I love to hear my kids say, "I did it!" when they are playing a game -- I just want my kids to derive that feeling of success through positive, challenging achievements, not the accompishment of killing someone else.

Why It's Particularly Bad for Young Brains

Little kids have a hard time distinguishing the line between the real-world and the gaming world, as young minds are still forming what is real and what is make-believe. To kids, these virtual experiences feel very real, not only because the graphics today are so amazing, but because they are taking on a first-person role in the killing process. Rather than just watching a rated-R violent movie, when kids play a game, they are one of the main characters inside the adventure. The entire experience becomes a more meaningful -- and deadly -- in their brains, which are forming new connections everyday.

How to Limit Exposure

You know your own kids and how sensitive they are to material, so ultimately you're the best gauge for your own kids. When you buy games, pay attention to the ESRB ratings and look for the rating of "E" for everyone. But it's not that easy when big cousins they look up to (or even their daddy) likes to play these games. I told my kids to blame their mother: "When you're in a situation where someone is turning on an M for Mature game, tell them that it's not ok for you to play or watch them play that game. If they have a problem with that, tell them to go talk to me."

I have no problem being the bad guy -- as long as they don't come back treating me like the bad guys in those video games!

Laura St. John is co-creator of Discovery Kids Puterbugs, an online educational game for preschoolers that builds the top 10 school readiness skills while reinforcing letters, reading and writing. To take advantage of a summer learning special, register at Discovery Kids Puterbugs and enter promo code, CAMP2, to receive a half-price discount available for a limited time only.

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