Stories about: Videogames

Never learning violence

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Last week, the New York Times featured an article entitled “Unlearning Gun Violence”, which discussed the work of an epidemiologist who, after a decade of fighting TB, HIV, and cholera in Africa, returned to a life-threatening epidemic in his hometown of Chicago—violence. He uses the same techniques that worked in Africa, teaching perpetrators and victims of violence to prevent recurrence of this deadly cycle. Such secondary and tertiary prevention is effective—but after the fact. Prevention of future violence can only happen after violence has occurred, identifying those at risk for aggression and victimization.

One day earlier, a research report in Pediatrics detailed the dramatic increase in gun violence in PG-13 movies, tripling over the past 3 decades. Movies that any child can watch (hopefully, but not necessarily with parental guidance) are now more violent than those that are restricted to those 17 or older unless accompanied by an adult. One day later, I was asked to present research in support of a bill in the Massachusetts Senate that would appoint an expert commission to study whether and how video games and other interactive media influence and teach their users.

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Is your child media savvy?

Everyday young people are bombarded with images on TV, movies and the Internet. In that media blitz they are often exposed to advertisements, both direct and subtle, promoting everything from the newest clothes to the coolest toys. But bikes and shoes aren’t the only products marketers are trying to sell to kids; many products that negatively affect child health are also being pushed, with some serious repercussions. For instance, research shows a direct link between increases in advertising of non-nutritious foods and skyrocketing childhood obesity rates.

But if children were more aware of the influential nature of media, would they be less susceptible to it?

The answer is yes, according to a recent study published in Journal of Children and Media, and co-authored by David Bickham, PhD, staff scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) and Ronald Slaby, PhD, senior scientist at CMCH.

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What can I do for my 15-year-old son, who has Asperger’s and ADHD and seems addicted to video games?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

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

Q: My son is 15 and displays symptoms of video game addiction, including lying and sneaking to try to gain access. He has Asperger’s and ADHD, and regardless of what medication regimen we try, the gaming obsession remains. I recently asked the psychiatrist to hospitalize him and treat him as they would other addicts, but they just changed his meds. Anyway, even if he were treated, he needs the computer for school. Do you have any advice for me?

Dealing with Addiction, Orlando, FL

A: Dear Dealing with Addiction,

Unfortunately, more and more families share your story. Whether through sleep deprivation, anxiety, or social isolation, teens struggling with problematic video game or internet use are suffering, and their families are disrupted. And research shows that young people with ADHD may actually be more susceptible to problematic video game or internet use.

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Could my 14-year-old son’s anxiety be related to playing video games?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

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

Q: Is there a connection between excessive video game playing and increased anxiety levels? My son is 14 and has some basic anxieties like walking the dog at night that I feel are made worse by the first-person shooter games he plays. I’d love to understand if you have seen any connections here.

Grappling with Gaming, in Westfield, NJ

A: Dear Grappling,

As a parent, you are the best monitor of your son’s well-being. If you have seen an increase in his anxiety that has paralleled his increase in first-person shooter (FPS) game play, then it is probably worth seeing what happens if he cuts back on or eliminates playing these games. Research supports what you are observing—it has found that children and adolescents frequently respond to media violence with increased fear and anxiety, because action entertainment makes violence seem more prevalent than it actually is.

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