Q: My husband loves to play X-Box and used to play in his home office with the door wide open. My toddler would saunter in and watch him play on occasion. He played Halo, Batman, and Street Fighter, all with my son’s watchful eyes nearby. With my constant reprimanding and insistence that he stop playing any violent games around our son, this has decreased a little. However, I can tell that my husband doesn’t see any negative consequences of playing games with loud noises and lots of physical contact. What can I do? Do you have any studies I can use to back up my argument? The Gamer's Wife in Toronto, Ontario
The Gamer's Wife in Toronto, Ontario
A: Dear Gamer's Wife,
Since 1970, there have been over 700 studies on the effects of media violence on kids. Almost all of these studies show that when kids repeatedly see violent images in the media, they are likely to experience one or more of these three outcomes:
- Becoming fearful or anxious about the violent situations they have seen (this may play out as nightmares in kids your son's age)
- Becoming less sensitive to the suffering of others (the more violence you see, the less you are horrified by it)
- Becoming more aggressive in both thought and behavior (though this is the most rare of the three effects, it does happen)
Kids can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality until the age of 7 or 8. Although your husband’s adult brain can experience media violence and understand that people don’t get blown down by machine gun fire, stand back up, and start shooting again, your son has no way to know that yet. He’s not comparing these images to what he knows of reality because he’s in the process of building his understanding of reality—and that will include whatever he sees in the media, whether it's true or not.
When you discuss this issue with your husband, you may want to emphasize that you are not insisting he give up video games all together, but rather that he might look into playing other kinds of video games — those that are sports-, logic-, or strategy-based, instead of those that center on violence. Hopefully you can come to an understanding that when he picks up the controller, he should think about the content of the game and decide whether it’s time to close the office door.
Enjoy you media and use them wisely,