Although moderate use of media for educational and research purposes may be helpful for children, overexposure or unsupervised use of the internet, television, and video games can lead to negative effects, such as social and emotional problems and risky behaviors, including:
- alcohol and tobacco use
- internalizing or acting out
- poor educational abilities
- information overload
- low moral values
- screen addiction
- sexual activity
- sleep disorders
There have been several studies in the past 10 years on the effects of video games on children.
Summaries of just a few findings include:
- Psychological studies have proven that violent video games can increase a child’s aggressive behavior, but when parents set limits on video game time as well as monitoring the kind of games played, children are less likely to show any negative effects.
- Use of computer-based video games to increase children’s cognitive learning skills based on experimental data.
- Positive effects and behaviors have been observed in children who play pro-social video games in which characters help and support each other in nonviolent ways.
Frequently Asked Questions
The amount of time a child spends looking at any kind of electronic display is referred to as screen time, and includes:
- viewing television
- watching videos and DVDs
- playing video games
- using computers, smart phones, tablets, and e-readers
The amount of screen time children experience is staggering. Children younger than age 6 watch screens for an average of 14 hours a week and children older than age 8 watch more than 40 hours a week.
Children are at risk of seeing a multitude of violent acts, poor behavior, questionable values, and countless sales messages. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18 and view 40,000 commercials each year.
Children who get too much screen time are more likely to:
- become obese — children who consistently spend more than 4 hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight or obese — an issue that impacts one in five children under age 6. Based on research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who get too much screen time spend a greater time sitting rather than being active. A sedentary lifestyle in children can result in medical conditions from cardiovascular problems to diabetes.
- exhibit aggressive behavior — kids who view violent acts are more likely to show aggressive behavior and fear that the world is scary and that something bad will happen to them
- engage in risky behavior — children who watch 5 or more hours of TV per day are more likely to begin smoking cigarettes than those who watch fewer than the recommended 2 hours a day. Over-exposure to violent and sexual images can also lead to problematic and risky behaviors, such as: a negative influence on a child’s norms and values, violence and bullying, sexual activity, and alcohol and tobacco consumption
- exposure to messages on television promoting unhealthy foods can result in increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and calorie-dense foods. (Source: Barr-Anderson, 2009)
- develop attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), screen addiction, and sleep disorders
With moderation, there are some benefits of screen time
- educational value and school-related homework and research
- playing video games can improve motor skills and coordination
- internet tools, texting, and shared video games are easy and fun ways to socialize and communicate
Resources on Media, Television and Children
- Media Awareness Network: find out how to help increase your child’s media literacy.
- Media Wise: includes reviews and ratings on almost every video game and movie on the market.
- Over the Rainbow: an online magazine dedicated to media literacy for the whole family
- Parents Television Council: educates on issues such as sex, violence, and profanity
- Parents’ Choice: provides reliable, unbiased information about children’s media and toys
Studies on the Effects of Video Games on Children
- Violent Video Games - Psychologists Help Protect Children from Harmful Effects (Source: American Psychological Association, 2004)
- The Effects of Computer-Based Video Games on Children: An Experimental Study (Source: Chuang, T.-Y., & Chen, W.-F, Educational Technology & Society, 2009)
- The Effects of Prosocial Video Games on Prosocial Behaviors: International Evidence From Correlational, Longitudinal and Experimental Studies (Source: Gentile, D., National Institute on Media and the Family, 2009)