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Mandy Saligari Headshot

Child + Computer Games = Aggression

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This study suggests there is a proven link between games console use and heightened aggression in youngsters, and I wholeheartedly agree.

I have borne witness to countless examples of increased aggression in all 3 of my children after even brief periods of playing these games - it's the same with most of their friends and with our friends' children too. I have seen a 5 yr old excitedly jump up and down playing Wii, only to fall to the ground sobbing, beside himself, when he loses; I have seen a usually modest and discreet mother wrestle her 11 yr old to the floor in an attempt to retrieve the PS3 control, and a father in a shouting match with his son during a game they were playing together as fun, and a war breakout between friends over who has which controller! Without a doubt these games increase levels of aggression.

To me it is quite simple - what you feed the brain becomes part of its shape. And when you understand that the brain is not fully developed until the early 20s, and the cognitive ability develops at around 7yrs old, you begin to realise how sensitive it must be at 11, 12, 13yrs old especially to such a stimulating influence as the charged atmosphere of a computer generated mission. During these games, this developing brain is over stimulated into a heightened and excited pace, yet the body is by contrast, relatively still. Thus the person is going to be at the very least out of sync.

The mission in these games is almost always a fight for your life. Whether that's in the fantasy playground of Wii or the simulated war scenes of Call of Duty, with violent graphics and emotive language that desensitise a person to killing and bloodbaths, the result is the same - raised levels of adrenalin, the fuel of aggression. When the games ends, the person is left 'high'. Not unlike the chemical alterations caused by alcohol or stimulants, the brain is charged for action, and the body, loyal as ever, responds.

I encourage my children to go for a run or to play football after playing games for any period (ie 30 mins +) to help bring them back into sync and earth themselves. When it is exam period we remove the consoles completely as too many arguments happen around it, and the whole atmosphere at home is easier.

But this is a temporary intervention, as perhaps surprisingly I do not believe that banning the console is the answer. This is not down to the usual arguments about prohibition raising interest in the banned substance, but because of the fundamental need for an individual to learn how to self-regulate. Especially in a world where addiction is on the up, self-regulation and self-esteem are our greatest preventative tools. Unless someone can identify when they are getting aggressive/drunk/stoned/out of hand, recognize and care about the impact their behaviour has on others as well as themselves, they cannot - and will not - intervene on their own behaviour.

So surely home is the learning ground for this process? Surely, despite being exhausted by punishing work schedules, it is our duty as parents to establish and maintain boundaries in the face of childhood insistence and dispute to help our children learn to manage their own emotional processes and behaviour in these early stages before eg drugs or alcohol even enter the equation?

On holiday this year we took no mobiles or computers...nothing of that kind, Instead we played backgammon, ball, we swam and read and talked - it was an absolute joy to spend quality time with my family, and to bear witness to their creativity and imaginations (once we had got over the mutiny that tried to force our hands and allow screens 'just for a minute'). It felt wonderful to know a little more about each of their lives and how they are getting on.

So my advice is this:

  • Manage the time your child spends on their games console - set a time and stick to it
  • Try to follow the age appropriate guides on the games - they are there for a reason
  • If like mine they want to play a game older than they are as their peers are doing it, speak to their friends parents and come to an agreement to confront peer pressure
  • Make them aware of their behaviour around the games
  • Try not to shame them, but to help them to see what they are doing in relation to how they feel
  • Follow through on consequences - ie if they don't come off when they are supposed to they lose the next day's allowance
  • Stay calm - don't let their over stimulated rage ignite yours so you lose respect
  • Encourage them to do something physical immediately afterwards
  • Spend time with your children without screens and play!