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Can video games cause behavior problems in children?

Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine

Children who play a lot of video games are more likely to have certain behavioral problems than kids who don't play as much, a new study finds. In this video, Dr. Robin Miller explains what those behaviors are, and also gives parents her bottom line about kids and video games.


Deborah R. Gilboa, MD
Family Medicine
In a word? Yes. 

Video games can also help behavior problems in kids. 

What makes the difference? Content. Research is clear that watching bad behavior can lead to bad behavior. Participating in violent behavior definitely causes three major problems for kids:
  1. They are more likely to react violently in real-life situations.
  2. They are more likely to be tolerant of violence they see as a bystander.
  3. They are more likely to be fearful and anxious about the world around them.
All of this together means that children who participate in violent video games are more likely to bully others, observe bullying without helping the victim, or be afraid in general.

The most dangerous video games are what are called "First person shooter" games. These are games where the player is causing injury and death to other players or characters in the game. Less dangerous but still concerning are games where the player doesn't cause violence but does witness a lot of it and has to work constantly to avoid danger. A hidden danger is any video game that links violence to humor, further desensitizing the players to the consequences (in the game or in real life) of such behaviors.

So how can I say that video games can help behavior problems? There are lots of video games that are not violent! Video games can teach teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, perseverance, strategy, even more traditionally academic skils.

The take-home message here? Content matters! Screen games before allowing your child to try them, and play games with your child, discussing the content and messages. In this way video gaming can lead to great parenting moments! 
Early exposure to violent media games has been correlated with negative social, emotional and academic outcomes. Early childhood access to violent television represents a threat to population health and should be discouraged by adult caregivers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.