Is Gaming Really That Big Hairy Scary Monster We Portray It As?
I’ve heard some crazy things said about gaming and kids. “My kid doesn’t have friends and it’s because he plays video games.” Or “my son has been rude to his siblings and it’s because he’s playing that Fortnite game.” Some of them have an inkling of possibly being true, but some of them are just bonkers. We get it, it’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming our kid’s poor behavior on anything but our parenting, which is why many of these myths continue to be believed. Even with the ones that sound kind of true, it’s just simply not the case. In fact, there are many myths floating around about the effects that gaming has on kids that could be the opposite of true. Some people believe that playing video games leads to obesity, social isolation, violent behavior, and more. But this isn’t always the case! We wanted to break down some of the most popular (and believable) myths about gaming and kids. Let’s take a look at some of the myths about gaming and kids and see if they hold any water.
Myth #1: Gaming Leads To Obesity
Logic would tell you yes this one is true. And this is the problem with some of these myths out there floating around. There is a context of believability about them. When it comes to gaming leading (or causing) obesity, there is no evidence to support the claim. What leads to weight gain is high-calorie and low-nutrient snacks. According to Markus Appel from the University of Wurzburg, “Given our results, it is likely that the energy intake [food and drinks] and their energy expenditure [including non-sedentary activities] are not closely related to playing games.” It is true that inactive behavior, like watching TV or playing outside, is what leads to obesity in kids, but it’s not the “gaming” itself. Now, we understand that playing video games doesn’t lead to healthy and fit kids either. But gaming isn’t causing your kids to be overweight and obese. And if you’re still thinking that this is true, fire up a VR headset and play Beat Sabor on “Hard”…you’ll work up a sweat!
Myth #2: Gaming Leads To Social Isolation
Some people believe that playing video games will lead to social isolation. Again…the logic is there, the believability is there. But how true is it? Let’s take a look at some of the research on this topic.
One study found that there was no significant difference between the amount of time kids spent playing video games and the amount of time they spent talking to their friends. In fact, kids who played video games were more likely to have stronger friendships than those who didn’t play video games. Another study found no significant difference between the amount of time spent playing video games and self-esteem.
Need more evidence? A study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that “video game playing does not appear to lead to social isolation or problems with social interactions.” In fact, the team found that video games are NOT the cause of some adolescent social issues. Imagine that? Now, this doesn’t mean that when children experience these feelings of isolation from their peers they’re not turning to video games to cope. We’re not saying this at all. We understand kids use video games to help manage their emotions and deal with teenage life. But does gaming itself lead to social isolation? Not really. And when we see those behaviors in our kids, we need to be proactive as parents and seize those moments as opportunities.
Myth #3: Gaming Leads To Violent Behavior
This one is actually one of my biggest pet peeves. There is a pervasive myth that gaming leads to violent behavior in kids. First of all, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that gaming leads to violence. In fact according to Benajmin Burroughs from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he said, “There are no longitudinal studies that show a link between violence and video games.” It’s just not there. Think of the millions and millions of kids each day playing millions of hours of gaming. If gaming did lead to violent behavior, this would be one dangerous place.
So why do people believe that gaming leads to violence? Because it passed the “sniff-check.” It plays into our fears. Another reason may be that gamers are often portrayed in the media as angry, socially-isolated males who spend all their time playing video games. But this is not representative of the majority of gamers. The truth is that most gamers are normal, well-adjusted kids who simply enjoy playing video games. My kid games a handful of hours each week, yet is socially engaged, is active in sports, is involved in schooling events, and is the nicest individual.
While it is true that some gamers have played violent video games (and there are a LOT of violent games out there), there are also some people who are affected by violence in the media. Although many scientists believe this evidence is not strong enough to prove a connection between media and behavior, it’s important to be cautious when kids watch any type of media. We’re not saying gaming doesn’t lead to violence so let your kids play whatever games they want. Not saying this at all. Parents still should monitor what their kids are watching and should educate themselves on the movies, TV shows, video games, etc. that their children are playing or watching to ensure they are age-appropriate. It’s interesting that I’ve seen some parents that would NEVER allow their child to watch a rated R movie or a rated M show on a streaming service, but for some reason don’t look at the rating of games they allow their kids to play (Come on parents, let’s be consistent). Now obviously I’m not going to let my 4-year-old grandson play Call of Duty. It’s all about what’s age-appropriate for your child. Listen, just because your kid plays a game where they’re a fictitious character using fictitious and fantastical weapons to take out other fictitious characters doesn’t mean they want to carry out similar actions in real life. Otherwise, why don’t you just block games like Minecraft as your child just might want to get a sword and start combatting zombies, dragons, and killer rabbits! There’s just no connection there. But the bottom line? There is no scientific evidence that supports the claim that gaming leads to violent behavior.
Gaming Isn’t The Enemy Here
It’s clear there are many myths floating around about gaming and its effects on kids. But do any of these myths hold water? Not really. Some do. We’ll say that there are little breadcrumbs of evidence sprinkled here and there linking gaming to psychological and social issues in some individuals, but there still lacks the concrete, causality proof about gaming and some of these myths we hear about. But that isn’t a license for you as a parent to just not manage what your kids are doing and playing when it comes to gaming. There is still something to be said about gaming in moderation. It isn’t necessarily the aspect of gaming that is of concern. The total amount of time spent consecutively playing is something parents definitely need to be aware of. Gaming isn’t the enemy, but we realize too much of one thing isn’t always good. We’ve noticed a behavior shift with our son when he plays too much Fortnite; his attitude changes a bit. We’ve heard this from other parents as well. The key is finding that healthy balance.
PLEASE get involved in their world. Understand what’s going on and what motivates them to want to play these games. Talk to them. Engage with them. Just the little things will go a long way in creating healthy screen time and gaming behaviors for your family.
Markus Appel, Ph.D., professor, communication psychology and new media, University of Wurzburg, Germany; Jason Bruck, R.N., Mount Sinai West, New York City; June 9, 2019, Social Science and Medicine