For years the debate has raged on: Do violent video games make teens act violently? The idea that they might is particularly unsettling when you consider that upwards of 90% of children in the US play video games. But when you look at the research on violence conducted over the past two decades, there are mixed results. As those responsible for the upbringing of these teens, we have to wonder: Are the hours they spend in a virtual warzone or life of crime turning them into killers?
In the past, video games have been condemned as a major influence in violent crimes. In particular, it was suggested that the attackers from 1999’s Columbine shooting could have been reacting to having their video game access cut off. Jerald Block, a US psychiatrist, theorized that the killers had been using video games as an outlet for their anger, and when the outlet was taken away, the teens became homicidal. In 2007, the American Medical Association (AMA) even considered adding “video game addiction” to its list of mental illnesses, before deciding that they needed further research.
The most recently published study on video games and violence appeared in this month’s Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and has some surprising results. According to researchers Christopher J. Ferguson and Cheryl K. Olson, there was no association found between children with depressive or attention-deficit symptoms (who were previously believed to be at a higher risk of being influenced by the virtual violence) and violent or bullying behavior. Surprisingly, in some cases the violent games had a cathartic effect on these same at-risk youths, reducing their aggression and bullying tendencies.
Despite these unexpected results, there still isn’t enough clear-cut evidence to understand the link between violent video games and violent acts, or if there is a link at all. But if you’re concerned for your teen, a first step may be understanding the rating system created by the Entertainment Software rating Board (ESRB). Games rated “M” are recommended for players ages 17 and up, and may contain “intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.” Each game also has a “rating summary,” which quickly gives a glimpse into the content of the virtual world your teens may be living in.
Do you think there’s a link between video games and violent behavior? Were you surprised by the results of Ferguson and Olson’s study? Would you let your teen play a video game rated “M”? Let us know in the comments below!