Good news for parents of gamers: a definitive study proves once and for all that video games DO NOT make your kids more violent. So you can relax, you’re not a bad mom if your kid plays COD! While I’ve known this for years, I’m glad that I can now point to science to back me up. Read on for the details!
Study proves video games don’t make kids more aggressive or violent
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A study performed by Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford proves once and for all that video games do not make teenagers more prone to aggression or violence. Now, if you’re thinking, “but other studies already said they did!” let me explain what makes this one the “definitive” and most conclusive study to date.
A huge difference in the way data was collected
First, those other studies relied very heavily on “self-reported data” from a relatively small sampling of teenagers. In this new study, Oxford researchers “publicly registered their hypothesis, methods and analysis technique prior to beginning the research.”
- The study sampled 2,008 British teens ages 14 and 15.
- The data itself came not just from the teenagers, but also from their parents (or other caregivers).
- The teens answered questions about their personality and their gaming habits, while caregivers answered questions about their child’s recent aggressive behavior.
- The study used the Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire.
The Oxford study didn’t start with experimental bias
Another huge difference: researchers in previous studies set out to prove a link between video games and violence (rather than explore whether there actually was a link). This is called experimental bias.
Basically, rather starting with a question and trying to find the answer, you start with the answer you want and choose your study participants based on that. So, if you want to “prove” that video games cause violence, you would start with already-violent kids and ask if they play video games.
It’s kind of like how music was used as a scapegoat back when we were teenagers. If a kid committed a violent act and happened to listen to Ozzy Osbourne, the music was blamed. Never mind that millions of people listened to the same songs and didn’t go out and hurt people.
Video games are just the latest scapegoat because the real culprit is something that no one wants to do anything about (be it easy access to weapons, poor enforcement of laws against bullying, or something else). Blaming a game, a song, or a TV show is “easier” than facing the true issue and enacting real change.
Here’s the thing: video games are not the problem. By the end of the study, researchers found that there is no link between video games and aggressive behavior in teenagers.
You can check out the full report and papers on the study here.
How & why I decided to let my son play FPS games
I’m going to tell you something that may make me unpopular among many parents: my son started playing Call of Duty when he was 8 years old. He spent the weekend at my aunt’s house. My cousin is closer to his age than mine (he was 12 or 13 at the time). Like me, my aunt had a fairly loose attitude towards video games. She was more concerned with limiting how much time he spent playing than what he was playing.
Like me, she raised her child from the start to understand the difference between reality and fiction.
During the 1-hour drive home, Jacob asked me if he could get COD. He already had an XBOX 360, but up until then most of his games focused on LEGO worlds, Skylanders, and Disney characters. He didn’t really show an interest in FPS games (first person shooters). On that ride home, though, it’s all he talked about.
Now, I’m going to be honest: I am not a fan of guns. I’m not making a political statement, just a personal one. They’re not my thing and I’ll never have one in my home. So when my son told me he wanted to play a game that was ALL ABOUT guns and shooting people, I was a little taken aback.
However, I’ve always approached parenting decisions in a logical way, so I asked him to tell me why he liked the game so much. A large part of it had to do with the fact that he could play online with my cousin. He also liked all of the strategy that went into the game (he didn’t use those words, he was only 8).
We continued talking about it the rest of the way home. We discussed the difference between video game violence and real life violence. We talked about how you may respawn in a game, but not in the real world. We talked about the dangers of guns, of weapons in general. We talked and talked.
Finally, I accepted that playing an FPS like COD wouldn’t turn him into a sociopath. I did tell him that I would be checking in frequently with him, that we’d talk about it again, and that if his “moral compass” started pointing south, I would send him all the way back to Dora & Diego games.
In the 5 years since my son started playing what one would call “violent” games, he’s never shown an increase in aggressive behavior. In fact, I often think about how lucky I am to have such a sweet, kind, caring, polite, and well-behaved child. I can count on one hand how many times he’s talked back to me. We continue to discuss the difference between reality and fiction, and he’s aware of the very real impact of things like guns and violence.
Of course, I you have to decide what is best for you and your kid. I can only decide what’s best for mine. If you are morally opposed to certain games, it’s your right to bar your kid from playing a game that you’re not comfortable with. Just as it’s my right to decide what my kid can handle.
Long story short, you’re not a bad parent for letting your kids play games with violence in them and your kids aren’t going to go out and hurt people just because they play Call of Duty. Maybe now that that’s settled, we can actually start doing something about the things that really DO cause kids to become violent.