Creative Commons/Marco Arment

Top Talker:
Violent Video Games Linked To Risky Behavior In Teenagers

Video games have been debated and talked about since they were developed and even more so with violent games that glorify deviant behaviors. Last month, Rene answered a question in her “Ask Rene” column from a mother who is worried about the video games and movies he’s being exposed to.

Now, there’s a new study publishedin the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that finds a link between violent video games and teenage gamers’ risk of criminal and other risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, stealing, fighting, and unsafe sex. This study is important because it is the first to suggest that the effects of aggressive video games go beyond violence and reach into other risk-taking behavior.

The researchers concluded: “The current findings support the hypothesis that play of mature-rated, risk-glorifying video games can alter self-perceptions of personal characteristics, attitudes and values with broad consequences for deviant behavior, including alcohol consumption, smoking, aggression, delinquency, and risky sex.

“Character-based video games provide an opportunity to practice being someone else. As a result, the behavioral consequences of playing such games are potentially much broader than the specific kinds of behaviors enacted in the game.”

Related: Top Talker: Can A Video Game Teach Social Skills? (POLL)

The lead author of the study, Jay Hull, had this to say: “With respect to playing deviant video game characters, we feel it best to follow the admonition of Kurt Vonnegut in Mother Night: ‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’”

While I don’t believe every teenager who plays violent video games will engage in risky behavior, I do believe that what teenagers surround themselves with can have some effect on their thinking and behavior. This is true of anybody, whether child or adult. The more we immerse ourselves in anything, the more likely we are to closely identify with those things. It’s not a leap in logic to understand that some teenagers who play video games with antisocial characters are more likely to identify themselves with these characters.

I think teenagers are particularly vulnerable to falling into risky behaviors because they are close to the adult world and like to experiment with activities that they perceive make them more adult than they actually are. Couple that with the not-completely-formed prefrontal cortex and it’s no wonder that some teens become rebellious and thrill-seeking.

Of course, this is where parents have to step in and know what their teenagers are doing. Is there a possible connection between a teen playing video games and behavior that wasn’t there before? Are ongoing conversations happening about the differences between video games and real life? Does the teenager seem to be lacking empathy? Is he starting to display changes in speech and behavior, particularly after playing violent video games?

I have to pull back on my 7-year-old daughter watching the evening shows on Disney Channel because I can tell when she’s being negatively influenced by what she’s hearing and seeing. She uses phrases I know she didn’t come up with on her own and her mouth gets a little sassy. Ongoing parental engagement and limits can help kids learn the difference between what they see on video games and TV and real life.

Related: The GEM Debate: Should Stores Stop Selling Violent Video Games To Minors?

In your experience with teenagers you know, do you see them engage in risky behaviors as a result of playing violent video games? Share your thoughts below.