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Video Games and Violence: Is There A Connection?

Changes to video game regulations pit some parents against experts who say there's no correlation between violent video games and violent behavior among children and teens.

Posters of motorcycles and baseball players decorate the basement of the Koury brothers' Manchester home. Fifteen-year-old Jack Koury and 11-year-old Douglas Koury are sitting on a couch. Each boy is firmly grabbing a black PlayStation controller while gazing at the plasma-screen TV in front of him, several feet away. 

Jack and Douglas are playing one of their favorite video games, The Bigs 2, an interactive game that allows players to vicariously experiment the excitement of being a famous baseball player.

Douglas pitches the ball while the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, played by Jack, strikes it powerfully.

“Oh my goodness!” Douglas cried. His brother had just scored a homerun.  

Jack, along with his twin brother Nick, and Douglas like to play video games after school during their free time. Their mother Karyn said she doesn’t like having her children play violent video games because she believes they have the potential to desensitize children and make them more aggressive in their day-to-day lives.  

The Koury brothers only play video games that are appropriate for their age, she said. Luckily for many parents, the video game industry has a rating system implemented by the Entertainment Software Rating Board that assigns age-specific ratings to each interactive game according to their content.

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s ban to sell violent video games to minors on June 27, many parents across the nation were upset because such ruling gave retailers across the country the chance to decide whether or not to sell mature-rated games to children.

Karyn Koury, and some other local parents Patch spoke with, still feel parents should supervise the type of video games children and teens buy. Koury said especially when they’re young, because they’re legally under their parents’ responsibility.

In Manchester, GameStop is the only video game specific store in the area. Despite the recent ruling, it will continue to restrict the sales of mature-rated games to customers younger than 17 years old. According to Michael Rung, the GameStop St. Louis area district manager, this practice was implemented several years ago, before last month’s Supreme Court ruling. 

Though many parents believe there’s a correlation between violent video games and violent behavior in children, some child experts don’t believe so.

Joel Nadler, child psychologist at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, said there isn’t a correlation between violent video games and violent behavior. Nadler, who has been a child psychologist at the hospital for more than 22 years, tells Town and Country - Manchester Patch that research on whether or not violent video games make children more violent has been inconsistent.

“The debate goes back and forth,” Nadler said. “Most research has to do with kids playing violent video games and rating them on aggressive thought.”

Margie Batek, child abuse investigator and lead social worker at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, agreed with Nadler that there isn’t a definite correlation between violent video games causing violent or abusive behavior among teens.

Batek said violent video games aren’t as prejudicial to children as other risk factors. Consuming drugs, being the subject of violence and having psychological disorders may cause a child to behave more violently.

“Those children who have been socially isolated or haven’t been victims of abuse in the past, are likely to act out, but only with a great amount of time playing violent video games,” Batek said. “Unlike watching television, playing video games makes a person an active participant, which may lead some teenagers to act out violent emotions.”

So, what should busy parents do if they don’t have the time to supervise their children all day?

Nadler cited the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that children age 2 and older to spend no more than two hours a day of screen time, suggesting parents shouldn’t let children play video games all day.

But screen time also includes watching television, computer games and using a computer for purposes other than schoolwork.

Nadler recommended having children and teenagers’ bedrooms media free.

“If you give children a private place to play, it decreases parental supervision,” Nadler said.

Batek also recommended limiting the amount of time children spend playing interactive games, while ensuring that the games they’re playing are appropriate for their age.

“Enforce guidelines in the hope to find a more a constructive thing to do,” Batek said. “It’s better to enforce these guidelines and take control before they make it a habit growing up.”  

Denise Bertacchi July 28, 2011 at 02:22 PM
If they're going to give games an age rating, then that should be used to restrict under age kids from buying it. I don't have a problem with that. The key to "screen time" like everything else is balance and moderation. There's no magic number, I think 2 hours for total screen time is a little harsh.

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