“We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.” Obama said. “Congress should fund research into the effects violent video games have on young minds.”

Only a month after the Newtown, CT tragedy I was pleased to hear the President’s plan today to decrease gun violence and his steadfast effort to improve the safety of our communities by decreasing violence, death, and suffering from firearms.  Delighted to hear that the government is looking to ensure that it’s safe to talk about firearm safety in the exam room (at a federal level) and also that he’s implored Congress to study the effects of video games on young minds. That being said, we do know a bit about the effects of video games on young minds. An American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2009 Media Violence statement noted, “The strength of the correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior found on meta-analysis is greater than that of calcium intake and bone mass, lead ingestion and lower IQ, condom non-use and sexually acquired human immunodeficiency virus infection, or environmental tobacco smoke and lung cancer—associations clinicians accept and on which preventive medicine is based without question.”

To be clear, the $10 million that Obama is granting the CDC to investigate the effects of violent video games on our children is not a ton of money. And their tone, according to Stephan Dinan of The Washington Times places more responsibility in our hands — “But overall, the White House said that while limiting guns is the role of the government, controlling what Americans see in movies and games is best left to parents.”

As parents and pediatricians, community members and mentors, and American citizens, there are things we can do now to improve our children’s exposure to and absorption of violence.

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Thoughts On Children’s Massive Exposure to Violence

  • Data finds that witnessing violent acts in the media (in a game, TV, or video) can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Research finds, “Consistent and significant associations between media exposure and increases in aggression and violence have been found in American and cross-cultural studies; in field experiments, laboratory experiments, cross-sectional studies, and longitudinal studies and with children, teens, and young adults.
  • We need to know more about what video games do to our brains. That being said, when video games reward killing of humans in more and more realistic ways, they may teach children to associate pleasure with the suffering or killing of others. This just can’t be a good way to spend hours a day as a developing human. More research will help us understand this better yet previous research has found that first-person-shooting experiences desensitize and divorce us from the act of killing.
  • Ages matters. Children 8 and under have a difficult time sorting out fantasy from fiction. Don’t allow young children access to or let them witness violent games that involve shooting and killing. As recently as this week, an online app branded with the NRA name was released online advertised for children 4 years and up. Due to public outcry, 2 days after it the app launch developers changed recommended age to 12 years and older. My opinion: game makers may not be looking out for your child.
  • We need to consider following the rating of video games more aggressively.  Parents can insist a child is 17 years to play a 17 and up game.
  • Children 8-18 spend more than 6 hours a day using entertainment media (TV,computer, video, movies, radio, music). Consider limiting children’s time with screens to the recommended 2 hours or less. If that’s exceedingly difficult, take baby steps. Step one: consider limiting time with violent video games today. Get them out of the house — don’t allow teens to play them online. The majority of 4th to 12th grade students report playing games with an ESRB rating of “M” for Mature (recommended only for those over age 17). Further, 78% of boys under age 17 report owning M-rated games.
  • By 18, an average child has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV alone. Watch television with your children when you can and turn it off when it gets gnarly.
  • Exposure to violent media can have lasting effects. Exposure to violence can potentially lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD, sleep trouble and nightmares. Work to turn off the television 2 hours before bed to help children sleep. If they have nightmares, are anxious or depressed, or are suffering from signs of increasing stress, talk with their doctor. Talk with your children and teens about creating a “media diet”—a fair way for them to watch media in a balanced way. You can help restrict violent media. Your children really do care what you think.

What Parents Need To Know:

  • Violent video games may change your child’s perception of aggression and may desensitize them to violent acts.
  • Play games before your children buy or download them. Know what your children play online, what they play at home, and then let them know your reflections.
  • Observe and follow video games ratings. Use Common Sense Media as a resource for looking up and reviewing video, movies, and games. Common Sense Media has an app I like, too.
  • Set limits. Especially for online gaming.
  • Have kids play video games together, not alone.
  • Think about a healthy “media diet.” Strive to reduce media after dinner (in the 2 hours before bed) and work to help your children find a bit of balance with video games, TV viewing, movies, and online videos.