Q: My husband plays X-box games rated for those over 16 or over 18, like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Modern Warfare. He allows our 5-year-old son to play these games with him. I do not know anything about X-box, but I feel they are not suitable for a child that is so young. Am I over-reacting like my husband suggests?
–Fear of Gaming, in Ireland
A: Dear Fear,
Trust your parenting instincts on this—you know your child better than anyone. Your concerns are not an over-reaction, but are supported by scientific research.
In video games, players gain or lose points for behaving in certain ways. They practice those activities over and over again, getting better and better at these “behavioral scripts.” While your husband’s adult brain can tell what’s fantasy and what’s reality, your son’s can’t—and won’t be able to for at least 3 more years. Instead, he will use these experiences to build his understanding of what the world is like and how people behave in it.
Using virtual violence as entertainment makes children of all ages less sensitive to the real-life suffering of others. It makes world seem more violent, which leads to anxiety—especially among the youngest users. And although they are unlikely to go out and do the things in real life that they do in video games, some users will think and behave more aggressively. If your son is having trouble with nightmares or aggression toward other kids, it could be related to playing these games.
Even if he isn’t visibly experiencing these kinds of problems, though, talk with your husband about what you’d like your son to learn and what kind of person you want him to become. Then brainstorm fun activities they can do together to accomplish those goals. And remind him that your son’s childhood is fleeting—their time together will build both memories and the person your son will be, so choose them mindfully.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,