Computer/video games and your child's health

By Jonathan Stromberg

Computer/video games are a modern day phenomenon that has become a big part of many childrens' lives. The games have reached a level in which the gameplay can be very addictive and the graphics very advanced; often depicting violence and gore.

First of all I will talk about the influence of computer/video games on youth violence. This topic had been much studied in recent years, and there is a growing body of opinion that the high level of violence depicted in many computer/video games does have a detrimental effect on children, contributing to the observed increase in violent behavior exhibited by juveniles in the last decade.

Look at a couple of marketing slogans for computer/video games aimed at children;

*Kill your friends, guilt free.
*More fun than shooting your neighbor's cat.
*As easy as killing babies with axes (Carmageddon).

Violence in computer/video games can be split into several categories: Fantasy and Human violence, which can further be split into third-person shooters and first-person shooters, the latter currently being the most popular game genre.

Look at how popular different categories of games are:

Fantasy violence - 32%
Sport - 29%
General Entertainment - 20%
Human Violence - 17%
Educational Games - 2%
It is clear that young people as a whole tend to go for violent games above more benign ones.

An article in Psychology Digest suggests that it is the interactive nature of computer/video games that helps to desensitize the juvenile attitude to violence. The youngster if fully and totally immersed in the game, and can take actions and bring about a death, with blood spraying everywhere. In contrast, watching T.V or a movie is a passive experience, in which the child can do nothing to alter the outcome.

Studies by psychologists such as Douglas Gentile, PhD, and Craig Anderson, PhD, agree with this last point. They indicate that it is likely that violent computer/video games have an even stronger effect on children's aggression than T.V. because (1) the games are highly engaging and interactive, (2) the games reward violent behavior, and because (3) children repeat these behaviors over and over as they play (Gentile & Anderson, 2003). Psychologists know that each of these help learning - active involvement improves learning, rewards increase learning, and repeating something over and over increases learning.
One of the greatest problems here is that murder and violence performed by the hero of the game are practically never punished, and often even rewarded. This creates a feeling in children that violence is right, and kids simply adopt violent behavior because they see nothing wrong about it. The interactive element of the point-and-shoot computer/video games lets children practice their shooting skills, which eventually become reflexes.

Drs. Anderson and Gentile's research also shows that children are spending increasing amounts of time playing computer/video games - 13 hours per week for boys, on average, and 5 hours per week for girls (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, under review; Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004). A 2001 content analyses by the research organization Children Now shows that a majority of computer/video games include violence, about half of which would result in serious injuries or death in the 'real' world.

Dr. Anderson and colleagues have shown that playing a lot of violent computer/video games is related to having more aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Furthermore, playing violent games is also related to children being less willing to be caring and helpful towards their peers. Importantly, research has shown that these effects happen just as much for non-aggressive children as they do for children who already have aggressive tendencies (Anderson et al., under review; Gentile et al., 2004).

Parents have an important role to play. Psychologists have found that when parents limit the amount of time as well as the types of games their children play, children are less likely to show aggressive behavior (Anderson et al., under review; Gentile et al., 2004). Other research suggests that active parental involvement in children's media usage-including discussing the inappropriateness of violent solutions to real life conflicts, reducing time spent on violent media, and generating alternative nonviolent solutions to problems-all can reduce the impact of media violence on children and youth (Anderson et al., 2003).

I have outlined the link between computer/video games and child violence. However this is not the only detrimental effect that games can have on a child's psychology. If a child is spending a lot of time with computer, he or she can have problems with social interaction in the long run and it is harder for him or her to engage in more traditional play and reading. There were separate studies conducted at Stanford University and Tohoku University in Japan that came to a related conclusion. The studies indicated that excessive playing of certain computer/video games were halting the process of brain development which essentially causing brain damage.
Research has shown that computers supplement and DO NOT replace other highly valued early childhood activities and materials, such as art, blocks, sand, water, books and dramatic play.

Furthermore, too much time playing computer/video games and using the computer as a whole is detrimental to a child's physical health.
One of the most common medical problems connected typically to playing computer/video games is crooked posture, which appears as a result of the irregular sitting position in front of a monitor or TV screen. There is a huge percent of children in Junior High and High Schools who have a crooked posture, and practically all of them frequently play computer/video-games.
Children also frequently complain about the pain in their hands, induced by hours of playing computer/video-games each day. Constant repetition of same moves can in time induce damage to joints, and skin irritation. A boy recently ended up in hospital thanks to the fact that he used his force-feedback controller seven hours a day, which severely damaged his wrists, knuckles and hand nerves. Some games also used to provoke epilepsy. Apart from this, one of the possible problems that can arise due to intensive staring into the screen is sight deterioration. Hours of watching the monitor (mainly in darkened rooms) which displays rapidly changing pictures can impair sight, and if the player already had a weakened sight, it can only make the situation worse. This mainly goes for games which take place in dark surroundings (which is most games for that matter). All these problems only appear after intense playing; meaning that reasonable playing with breaks cannot be harmful. In the last ten years, the number of hours a child spends playing computer/video games per week increased from 2.8 to 4.3. Many children spend far more time trapped in virtual worlds than ever before.

Complete control over your child’s use of the computer The highly acclaimed software company has recently released a new program Chronager, which is an invaluable tool for parents who wish to control their child's use of the computer and computer/video games.
Chronager enables a parent to limit the times in which a child can play particular games. If a child plays online (Internet) games then parents can also limit the times in which they can be accessed. The times in which the computer can be used as a whole can also be set.
In this way a parent could, for instance, allow their child to play games for 1 hour day between 7 and 8pm, after homework has been done. Access to the computer as a whole could be allowed at the weekend for a few hours, 2 of which could be available for game playing.
Furthermore, Chronager allow parents them to monitor what games their children play and for how long, and inform parents of any attempt made by the child to access a game outside of the set times. For further details go to Chronager web page.

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