Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.
Last week he gave advice on talking to young teens about the controversy surrounding former Disney pop star Demi Lovato, this week he has tips for talking to your teen about the violence in the immensely popular video came Call of Duty.
Q: My 13-year-old likes to play the Call of Duty games, but only wants to play the multiplayer part of the game. He knows it’s rated Mature, but claims it’s not too violent, bloody, or intense for him—he just thinks it’s fun. My son is very well-rounded: He plays music and sports, and now has gotten into this game. Should I let him keep playing it?
-Game-Puzzled Pop in Metairie, LA
A: Dear Pop:
The answer to your question depends on what you’re concerned about. Given that your son is actively engaged in other activities, it sounds like you’re not worried that it might be getting in the way of other things in his life, so I suspect that your concern is about his exposure to and engagement with the game’s violence.
Many people can play games like Call of Duty without experiencing additional negative effects, but others are affected in much more evident ways. Research shows that when children play violent video games, they are more likely to…
- behave aggressively (and less likely to show prosocial behavior).
- sustain levels of hostility and anxiety after playing, according to the amount of aggression displayed in the game.
- feel desensitized to real-life violence, because when we spend time in a high-adrenaline, high-reactivity environment—even in virtual reality—our expectations for the world and the way we respond to it change.
- have arguments with teachers and physical fights with peers.
- be negatively affected in academic performance, including SAT scores.
We also know, however, that video games in general can be beneficial teaching tools and even have some positive effects on the brain: They can increase kids’ visual attention (though they also tend to make snap decisions based on what they see) and encourage children to communicate positively with their online game-playing peers. But the question is often whether these potential positives outweigh the potential negatives of video games that are this violent.
One way to address your concerns with your son is to ask him about his game play. What does he enjoy about this game? The interaction with other teens? The narrative itself? He probably enjoys the production values, which are quite high in games like this as more captivating the graphics and stories are, the better they sell. It also sounds like he may be using this game as a way to decompress between activities, and as long as it isn’t interfering with other important parts of life, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But whatever it is that draws him to the game, there may be a different video game (or another activity) that could fill the same role without the potential negatives.
Talk with him about that possibility—and, if he still wants to play Call of Duty (which I suspect that he will), offer to play it with him once. Let him teach you about it. You can take that opportunity to ask questions about it and point out parts that worry you. Whatever you decide, I encourage you to remember that people are changed by any media they use, and so your questioning this game is excellent practice for future “Can I please, Dad?” discussions with him.
We’ve received several parents’ questions about Call of Duty. Read more:
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,