Child Psychologists: ‘Video Games Have Achieved the Status of Moral Panic’

Winda Benedetti from NBC News conducts an interesting interview with two child psychologist to ask them about the effects of gaming on young children. She interviews Dr. Tyler Black, Clinical Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Emergency Unit at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver, BC, Canada; and Dr. Matthew Chow, the Clinical Director of Telepsychiatry at BC Children’s Hospital. Both men have worked extensively with children and young adults on such problems as addiction, violence and psychiatric disorders. Both doctors also consider themselves to be gamers.

First the good doctors offers some simple advice for parents concerned about what their kids are playing: use the ESRB ratings system and fully research the games your kids are playing /want to play, and don't let them play age inappropriate games. They also suggest that your child should be playing videogames because they are fun, and not for the wrong reasons, like "staying home from school, avoiding a particular person, or because they cannot sleep."

The doctors also suggest that parents should play games with their children and they should also pay attention to who they are playing games with online. Finally they suggest that parents should really have a frank discussion with their children about the difference between what goes on in video game worlds and what happens in the real world so that children know the difference.

One of the more interesting parts of the interview deals with the current state of "moral panic" surrounding the culture of violence in movies, music, and video games. As Dr. Black points out, violence is complicated:

"The simple answer is that violence is complicated, and an easier answer is simpler to digest," says Black. "It is so much easier to point at a video game and say, 'That's the problem,' than it is to look at our own society, our own laws, our own views on mental health, and our own systems in fostering a healthy society. Video games have achieved the status of 'moral panic.' That is to say, that the narrative that people hold is that "video games are not healthy, and are bad for our children." This is very similar to how television used to be viewed, how jazz music was viewed before that, how novels were viewed before that, and how Shakespeare was viewed before even that."

"There has always been a moral panic that has us 'worried for the future generation," he continued. "I think video games are so prevalent, and yet so foreign to parents and the older generations, that it's easy to see them as 'scary.' Video games have progressed from very primitive to very realistic, the M-rated games have become more violent, and the interactions more realistic. So people make this link that 'increasing violence is due to increasing use of video games.' However, the world is not more violent. In fact, violence in youth continues to decrease year-over-year. So the core concern is unfounded, yet the media and public narrative remains."

Finally Dr. Chow talks about the link between violent behavior and video games, or more precisely the lack of evidence thereof:

"I have seen violent behavior in people who play video games, and I have also seen violent behavior in people who do not play video games," says Chow. "That being said, it is becoming harder to find people who have never played a video game. Almost everyone has played a game like 'Angry Birds' on their phone. Despite the proliferation of video games, I am not seeing any increase in violent behaviors in children. If someone wants to prove to me that video games cause violence, they need to explain why the incidence of violent crimes is falling in America while more people are playing video games."

You can read the entire interview here.

"Happy family – father and children playing a video game" © 2012 DenisNata / Shutterstock. All rights reserved, used with permission.

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