When I was a child, I used to spend all day playing outside. I would go for walks, play ball with my friends, go fishing, make mud pies; the list goes on. I do not recall being bored very often during my childhood. On the off chance that the words, “I’m bored.” did happen to come out of my mouth my parents would tell me, “Go outside and play.” Nowadays, children do not hear those words as often as they should. The phrase, “Go outside and play.” has become, “I just bought you a new Playstation and seven new games for your birthday, how can you be bored?” The advancement of technology in video games has brought with it the advancement of unhealthy lifestyles for our children. From obesity to murder, the negative effects of video game play are more dangerous than many may realize.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), obesity rates for adults have doubled and the rates for children have tripled just since 1980. I admit that we cannot blame this fact on video games alone. However, is it just a coincidence that it was during these same years that the market for video games began to boom? Allowing our children to sit and play video games for hours on end, in my opinion, cannot lead to a healthy lifestyle. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that people should spend at least sixty minutes a day exercising. (American Academy of Pediatrics) As the obesity rates indicate, many children would rather play a video game than climb a tree. It was bad enough when television came out, but now we have another distraction from physical activity, video games. Moreover, not only are children playing but also the adults. Remember the saying, “Lead by example.” and you will notice that if a parent plays video games, more often than not, their children do as well. Being active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also ‘lead by example’. This is where we as parents need to realize there is a problem, step in, and do something about it.
Influencing a child to exercise is not always easy. This task can turn out to be almost impossible if the child has become addicted to video games. I realize how peculiar that statement sounds, but it is something that does happen. I, myself at one time was addicted to a certain video game. For two years, I spent as much of my free time as I could on playing this game. If I was not playing the game then I was thinking about it, or talking about it. It got to the point where everything I did or said related to this game and even my friends, who played the game with me, started to notice and make comments. I realized then, that my life was going nowhere and I had gained ten pounds. Therefore, I smartened up and went back to college. Unfortunately, many young children and adolescents do not ‘smarten up’ on their own. These children need their parents help and support in order to cure their addiction. According to Child and Youth Health, “Young gamers have shown similar symptoms to people who have drug or alcohol dependence – an inability to stop playing, and withdrawal symptoms (anxiety, agitation) if they go without access to their gaming 'fix'.” (Child and Youth Health) That sounds like an addiction to me. In addition, just like with any other addiction, there are harmful side effects. RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury. (Child and Youth Health) This painful condition can occur in the arms and wrists with prolonged, repetitive movements. Luckily, this side effect is not life threatening.
Violence, on the other hand, is life threatening and is an overwhelming theme of many video games. You can even buy game controllers that resemble real guns. Are we seriously sending the message to our children that it is ok to play with guns? The American Psychological Association has conducted studies focused on this very subject. What they found was that playing violent video games did in fact raise violent behavior, feelings, and thoughts. Violence in video games is also more harmful than violence in television because of the interaction found in these games. (American Psychological Association) When playing online shooter games, players ‘hunt’ each other with the intent to kill. There is a definite connection between violence in video games and aggression in children. According to Teen Health, “These effects seem to be stronger in young people who already tend to be aggressive.” In addition, “even taking into account the person's hostility, it is clear that exposure to violent games causes’ increased aggressive behavior.” Video games are making violence look ‘cool’ to children. In these alternate ‘worlds’ violence is not punished, in fact it is rewarded. When a six year old walks up, with gun in hand, and blows someone’s head off they get a pat on the back and a, “Good job!” These games are making it fun for people to kill each other. When you consider the age of some children when they begin to play these games, you have to keep in mind how impressionable these youngsters are. This again falls back on the parents. If you are a parent, you must take responsibility for the types of games your children play. We cannot expect the companies who create such games to look out for our children’s well being. They are in it for the money, not to benefit humanity. Take for instance this list of game titles; Resident Evil 4, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and God of War. These three game titles are very popular in the gaming community. They also hold the top three spots on the most violent games list. (Sinclair) With our children exposed to so much violence how can we be surprised with the amount of violence in society? Let us give our kids guns to play with and then wonder why little Bobby was shot in the middle of homeroom this morning.
Video games have ratings, just as movies and music albums do. Before purchasing, be sure to find out what rating the video game has and that it is appropriate for your child’s age group. Also, try to limit the time you allow your child to play. As we have seen, video games can affect children in some very negative ways. However, parents can avoid these issues by monitoring what games their children are playing and how long they play them.