Wrigley: Violent video games are ruining our children – InForum

Parenthood is difficult.

Raising a child is the hardest and most important job we have ever had. For the rest of our lives, our hearts will beat outside the protective shells of our chests.

There is no retirement. We don’t age out of parenthood. My mother tells me that at 52, I continue to be the object of her daily prayers, her worries and her joy.

Raising children is especially difficult in today’s world, with the added challenge of competing with the overwhelming complexities and indisputable necessities of technology.

We are in strange and somewhat uncharted territory. Our children are tasked with being on the cutting edge of technology in today’s world, yet the ramifications of unfettered digital use can have significant negative consequences for their development. The parents are desperate and frustrated.

To be fair, the pandemic has magnified the veracity of how quickly our reliance on technology has undoubtedly impacted our children’s digital education and habits.

Overnight, parents grappled with the two-story need to homeschool their children while they worked remotely from their kitchen tables. It was a historic turning point in our reliance on digital devices and technology. Parents depended on these spectacular machines to entertain, educate, occupy and entertain children.

While there are dangers associated with technology, this column will focus on elementary-aged children, video games, and the consequences that overuse has on behavior, social skills, friendships, attention, coping skills and development.

The video game industry is a sophisticated, multi-million dollar industry devoted to designing addictive products for helpless children and vulnerable youth.

I’m not anti-tech. I love my smartphone. I love social media and waste a lot of time scrolling, liking, reading and yes, lusting. It’s hard to maintain a healthy balance with my attractive little smartphone.

Long car journeys – as a passenger – are a perfect social media pastime. This Mother’s Day, we traveled to Fargo from Bismarck for a family brunch. We were half an hour from town when I realized I had left my phone on the kitchen counter. I was surprised and saddened by the emotions it aroused. At first I was anxious. Then I was angry. I consume a regular diet of habitual peeking into people’s window of life via social media.

Video games, depending on content and time spent playing, can be educational and have a positive effect on children, Wrigley writes.

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I sat at brunch and people watched. So many kids – toddlers – sitting at tables with iPhones and iPads propped up to keep them busy (and calm). I came home with 87 text messages. The break from screen glare was illuminating. I have a fully developed adult brain. It left me wondering how an impulsive 8-year-old can fight the reality of a constant barrage from a digital diet.

As a mother, licensed clinical child and family therapist, and school counselor, I am immersed in the lives of children. I am not an expert on the effects of technology on the developing brains of young children. I am obsessed with how our digital world affects the behavioral, social, academic, emotional and mental conditions of our children. I am gripped by what research – and personal experience – has shown me to be true.

This column is meant to start a conversation. To educate parents. To share personal ideas, concerns and fears. And, to hold each other accountable. Information is power, and together we are stronger.

Empirical data is becoming increasingly clear about the addictive nature of video games for children. There is a strong correlation between video games and aggression.

Children as young as kindergarten play for hours every day. Although it may not reach the level of addiction and aggression now, it is definitely a doorway. I’ve seen second graders playing games like “Call of Duty” which are censored for mature audiences (MA). These kids become numb to the act of gunfights, murder-laden murders, and bloody assassinations.
Here’s what my co-workers and I are seeing: Kindergarten students, during free play, draw violent pictures of guns and figures with decapitated heads, blood pouring from their necks, and chests full of bullets. He is a 5 year old child. These are not images found in children’s books.

I have worked with parents who have caught their 9 year old playing under the covers of their bed in the middle of the night. I have seen children kicking, screaming and hitting their parents when smartphones were not given to them to play video games. They are good children with good parents from loving and healthy homes.

Along with violence desensitization comes a host of other side effects, such as impaired attention, short fuses, quickness to anger and frustration, inability to connect, socialize and playing with other children, a phenomenally underdeveloped ability to cope and adapt, addictive-type behaviors and antisocial behaviors, among others.

Dr. Craig Anderson of Iowa State University presented an abstract of the most comprehensive meta-study ever conducted in this line of research. Anderson concluded that “violent video games are not only a correlate, but a causative risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behaviors”. He went on to say that “the results provide conclusive evidence that exposure to violent video games makes children more aggressive and less caring, regardless of age, gender, or culture.”

Anderson has spent most of his research career studying the effects of video games on children and aggression, and he thinks the debate is over, noting “now is the time to move on to a more constructive question like, “How can we make it easier for parents—within the boundaries of culture, society, and law—to provide a healthier childhood for their children?”

The good news is that parents are in control. That said, it’s a heavyweight.

Video games, depending on the content and time spent playing, can be educational and have a positive effect on children.

Parents need to be vigilant, proactive, and unapologetic in their screen time rules. Delay exposure to any digital device for as long as possible. It was my strategy, not because I knew better or was a better parent. Frankly, I was lazy and didn’t want or have the time to monitor kids’ internet usage.

Once the digital door opens, it’s hard to close. Connection, communication, and community are key to supporting, educating, and empowering parents about the potentially serious impacts that wireless technology and gaming have on the development of small brains. Each parent can make the decision to limit and control their child’s screen usage. It is not too late.

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