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Wrigley: Violent video games are ruining our children

The boy play with computer and consol racing game. boy holds in his hand the game console.
Empirical data is becoming more and more clear of the addictive nature of video games for children and indicates a strong correlation between video games and aggression.
Getty Images / iStockphoto
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Parenting is hard.

Raising a child is the single, most difficult and important job any of us will ever hold. For the rest of our lives, our hearts will beat outside of the protective shells of our chest.

There is no retirement. We don’t age out of parenting. My mom tells me, at 52 years old, I continue to be the subject of her daily prayers, worries and joy.

Child rearing is especially tough in today’s world, with the added challenge of competing with the compelling complexities and unquestionable necessities of technology.

We are in a strange and somewhat unchartered territory. Our children are tasked with being tech savvy in today’s world, and yet the ramifications of unfettered digital usage may bear significant, negative consequences on their development. Parents are forlorn and frustrated.

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To be fair, the pandemic amped up the veracity of speed to which our dependance on technology has unmistakably impacted education and our children’s digital habits.

Overnight, parents were saddled with the double-decker need to homeschool their kiddos while they worked remotely from their kitchen tables. This was an historic tipping point on our reliance on digital devices and technology. Parents depended on these spectacular machines to entertain, educate, occupy and divert children.

While there are dangers associated with technology, this column will focus on elementary-aged children, video games and the consequences that overuse has on behavior, social skills, friendships, attention, coping skills and development.

The video game business is a sophisticated, bazillion dollar industry devoted to designing addictive products aimed at defenseless children and vulnerable young people.

I am not anti-tech. I love my smartphone. I enjoy social media and waste ample time scrolling, liking, reading and yes, coveting. It is tricky to maintain a healthy balance with my seductive little smartphone.

Long car rides — as a passenger — are a perfect time-sucker for social media. This Mother’s Day we traveled to Fargo from Bismarck for a family brunch. We were half an hour out of town when I realized I left my phone sitting on the kitchen counter. I was surprised and saddened by the emotions this stirred. At first, I was anxious. Then I was angry. I consume a steady diet of habitually peeking into the window of people’s lives through social media.

Young kid playing mass multiplayer game online
Video games, depending on the content and the amount of time spent playing, can be educational and can have a positive effect on children, Wrigley writes.
sakkmesterke/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I sat at brunch and watched people. So many children – toddlers – sitting at tables with iPhones and iPads propped up to keep them occupied (and quiet). I came home to 87 text messages. The break from the glare of the screen was enlightening. I have a fully developed adult brain. It left me wondering how an impulsive 8-year-old can combat the reality of a constant barrage of a digital diet.

As a mom, licensed clinical child and family therapist and school counselor, I am immersed in children’s lives. I am not an expert on the effects of technology on the developing brains of young children. I am obsessed with how our digitally driven world is affecting our children’s behavioral, social, academic, emotional and mental health conditions. I am gripped by what the research — and my personal experience — has shown me to be true.

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This column is meant to start a conversation. To heighten parental awareness. To share personal insights, concerns and fears. And, to empower one another. Information is power, and together we are stronger.

The empirical data is becoming more and more clear of the addictive nature of video games for children. There is a strong correlation between video games and aggression.

Kids as young as kindergarten are gaming for hours every day. While this may not rise to the level of addiction and aggression now, it certainly is a gateway. I have witnessed second graders play games like “Call of Duty” that are censored for mature audiences (MA). These kiddos become desensitized to the act of shootings, killings fraught with blood-pulverizing murders and assassinations.
Here’s what my colleagues and I are seeing: kindergarteners, during free play, are drawing violent pictures of guns and characters with decapitated heads, blood dripping from their necks and a chest full of bullets. This is a 5-year-old. These are not images found in children’s books.

I have worked with parents who have caught their 9-year-old gaming, under the covers of his bed, in the middle of the night. I have watched children kick and scream and punch their parents when smartphones are not handed over to them to play video games. These are good kids with good parents from loving and otherwise healthy homes.

Added to the desensitization to violence is a host of other side-effects, such as attention disorders, short fuses, quickness to anger and frustration, an inability to connect and socialize and play with other children, a phenomenally under-developed ability to cope and adjust, addictive-type behaviors, and antisocial behavior, among others.

Iowa State University’s Dr. Craig Anderson gave a summary of the most comprehensive meta-study review ever conducted in this line of research. Anderson concluded that “violent video games are not just a correlation, but a causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behaviors.” He went on to say, “the results prove conclusively that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids—regardless of their age, sex or culture.”

Anderson has spent most of his research career studying video game effects on children and aggression, and he believes the debate is over, pointing out “it’s now time to move on to a more constructive question like, ‘How do we make it easier for parents—within the limits of culture, society, and law—to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?’”

The good news is that parents are in control. That said, it’s a heavy lift.

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Video games, depending on the content and the amount of time spent playing, can be educational and can have a positive effect on children.

Parents must be vigilant, proactive and unabashed in their rules for screen time. Delay exposure to any digital device for as long as possible. This was my strategy, and not because I knew better or was a better parent. Frankly, I was lazy and didn’t want to or have time to monitor the kids’ internet usage.

Once the digi-gate opens, it’s tough to close. Connecting, communicating and community are key elements to supporting, educating and empowering parents on the potentially serious impacts that untethered technology and gaming has on developing little brains. Every parent can make the decision to limit and control their child’s screen usage. It’s not too late.

Related Topics: ON THE MINDS OF MOMS
Kathleen Wrigley is a wife, mom and advocate. She is made with equal amounts of grace and grit, with gobs of giggles and gratitude.
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