Are Video Games Dangerous?

In my previous post, I was pretty dismissive of the idea that video games are risky for children. So let’s be clear: there are risks, and approaching video games and children with a “whatever you want/as much as you want” attitude is not where I’d want this discussion to go.

I contacted Jedd Hafer, of the Love & Logic Institute, to help me (and hopefully you) with understanding the impact of video games and appropriate ways to manage children’s relationship to them.

He started by saying that kids can indeed tell the difference between make-believe and reality, but there’s more to the issue. Here’s what he had to say:

The bad news is that violent video games have been shown to have a cumulative effect on things like mood and empathy. Think heavy metal poisoning—a little bit won’t kill you, but too much and you have problems. When you see a person die violently in a movie, you might have an empathetic reaction. I even wince when the bad guy gets impaled at the end of . . . well, every Bruce Willis action movie from the 1990s.

But when you play a violent video game, you are the one doing the shooting and your internal reaction when the bad guy gets shot is “Yes, I win!” There is a reason that the police and military use simulators. They do prepare us for and de-sensitize us to the real thing.

More bad news for the developing brain is that many new neurons are showing up for work and learning that their job is . . . to be electronically stimulated instead of, perhaps, some more important functions.

Love and Logic believes that kids should make lots of affordable mistakes. The question becomes “what is affordable?” Can an average, healthy kid play some military games in moderation without much effect? Probably so. Have kids with violent tendencies rehearsed horrific acts that they later carried out in real life? I live less than 45 minutes from Columbine High School and I can tell you the tragic answer. The Columbine shooters literally practiced for their attack.

Since we believe in being practical, let me offer some specific signs it may be time to intervene:

  • Kids lacking relationships in the real world (their only friends are online gaming or Internet friends)
  • Kids becoming extremely irritable and short-tempered
  • Not getting sleep or schoolwork done
  • Lacking empathy, enjoying when other people hurt

If you are seeing these or other harmful effects, set some good limits (ex: ”We provide/allow video games when they aren’t causing problems.”) and don’t be afraid to remove the offending object for a time.

Now for the Internet (applies to online gaming as well): I like to think of the Internet as the biggest, most dangerous city in the world. At what age would I let my kid go anywhere, unchecked and unsupervised, around that city? I’m thinking about 35?

Seriously, we are big advocates of computers being in open areas of the house. Obviously filters, history checks and passwords (if you don’t know how to do this stuff, get help—just not from your kid), as long as we don’t become dependent on them to where we stop talking to our kids and engaging them about this stuff. I’m a pretty nosey dad when it comes to this stuff. Does it irritate my 13-year-old sometimes? Yep. If it saves his life, it’ll be worth it. A predator (there are sooo many) getting access to my kids is NOT an affordable mistake.

To sum up: Some gaming in moderation won’t harm the average kid. Too much, especially the 1st-person violent stuff, and it can have toxic effects. And if I am going to err on the net, I’d rather err on the side of safety.

Stay involved, dads. You are the best safety device of all!

So what do you think? I’d love to hear about how modern-day dads are meeting these modern-day challenges.

Also, a recent study is making the rounds that suggests video games are not to blame for callous kids (though I’m not sure I buy the methodology). And a quick Google search of recent headlines turned up ones that say games can help combat depression and (wait for it) obesity. Read if you have the time:

– Study: Violent video games may not desensitize kids (USA Today)

– Study: Casual gaming reduced depression symptoms (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

– Using video games to combat obesity (


This post was originally published by Men’s Health:

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