Pete Etchells and Suzie Gage are two of the most knowledgeable and level headed people to read about the fevered issue of video games and children’s behaviour, so I’m really pleased that they have produced a cracking paper on the subject.
This paper uses the best available data to place the debate around video games and behavioural problems on a scientific, evidence-based footing.
In doing so, they have busted some important myths. The overall amount of games played is not associated with adverse outcomes. The association between violent games and behavioural problems is weak, and only possibly causal.
We know that all children play games. As a developmental paediatrician, the families that worry me are those that are unable to set boundaries about what games are appropriate, leading to exposure to 18 certificate games. However these are also families who struggle to set boundaries more generally. This is itself associated with later behavioural problems including conduct disorder, and may be one of the residual confounders mentioned by the authors. In other words, exposure to violent video games at 8 might be a marker of deeper problems, as much as a contributor to them.
So rather than scapegoat video games generally, I think it would be more sensible to focus on educating and supporting families to understand the certificate system, empowering and training parents to set boundaries, and getting retailers and publishers to show responsibility in marketing and selling violent games (I’ve written about this previously).
That way, I may never again have to tell an outraged 8 year old that he’s not allowed to pay Grand Theft Auto, while his mother looks on impotently.