The Headteacher: Violent video games have a negative impact on children

Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher of Bishop Wilton Primary School.
Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher of Bishop Wilton Primary School.

Violent video games fuel aggressive behaviour as children grow up, a new report has warned.

Children who repeatedly play brutal video games are learning thought patterns that will stick with them and influence their behaviour as they grow older, the study has claimed. Worryingly, having read the report, I have to agree.

More than 90 per cent of children and teens play video games and researchers say the majority of those games contain some type of violent content.

I regularly hear headteachers talking about issues they are having with children copying the content of video gaming and the problem simply isn’t going to go away.

Douglas Gentile, an Associate Professor of Psychology and lead author of the recent study, said that the brain process is really no different to learning maths or how to play the piano.

“If you practice over and over, you have that knowledge in your head. The fact that you haven’t played the piano in years doesn’t mean you can’t still sit down and play something,” Professor Gentile argues. “It’s the same with violent games, you practice being vigilant for enemies, practice thinking that it’s acceptable to respond aggressively to provocation, and practice becoming desensitised to the consequences of violence.”

I recently hosted an information evening at one of my schools to inform parents of the dangers associated with our rapidly changing electronic world. The guest speaker, an expert in this field, described some of the issues around video gaming. Many primary children are accessing games that are inappropriate for their age, often with ratings of 18 and above. Peer pressure, parental apathy and unmonitored gaming all contribute to the problem. Let us take the latest ‘Grand Theft Auto’ game as an example, it is believed to be the best selling game of all time with 32 million copies sold worldwide.

Morian Morgan is a headteacher in South Wales. He describes children as young as six re-enacting brutal and sexually explicit scenes from Grand Theft Auto. They are playing games involving simulating rape and sexual intercourse and having playground chats about drugs and prostitution.

Primary school youngsters are also using the ‘strongest of sexual swear words’ and discussing sex acts as a result of exposure to the controversial 18-rated computer game. Morian said some pupils even injure themselves after copying aggressive scenes.

In the latest Grand Theft Auto game, players must choose various torture methods to use on a victim, such as pulling out teeth with pliers, electrocution, beating with a heavy wrench or water-boarding.

Do we really want our children to be exposed to these sorts of images? Of course not, but raising awareness is a challenge in itself.

Across my three schools, only 12 parents attended the e-safety evening. Those who came along left the meeting feeling more concerned than when they went in, objective achieved from my point of view. “All parents should’ve seen this is!” was the most popular quote at the end of the evening.

The makers of Grand Theft Auto argue that it is given an 18 rating for a reason, of course, they are absolutely right.

It is up to parents to ensure that the guidance is followed and children are protected from the violent episodes I have described. Obviously in school this is much easier as we have many systems in place to monitor the electronic content. At home it is far trickier to keep an eye on, with new hand-held devices becoming ever more mobile, and the opportunity for children to ‘game’ at their friends’ houses always being an option.

Researchers in Douglas Gentile’s study found that over time children start to think more aggressively. When provoked at home, school or in other situations, children will react much like they do when playing a violent video game. Repeated practice of aggressive ways of thinking appears to drive the long-term effect of violent games on aggression.

“Violent video games model physical aggression,” said Craig Anderson, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and and co-author of the report. “They also reward players for being alert to hostile intentions and for using aggressive behaviour to solve conflicts. Practicing such aggressive thinking in these games improves the ability of the players to think aggressively. In turn, this habitual aggressive thinking increases their aggressiveness in real life.”

I can’t help but feel that the time children spend playing these games has to have a negative impact on them. The violence becomes normalised and the children desensitised to it. As adults, we have to monitor this virtual world and protect children from what I believe to be an abusive environment.

In many ways it is just important as monitoring their everyday life in the real world.

Personally, I cannot understand why an ‘adult’ would want to carry out some of the ‘activities’ in Grand Theft Auto, the more I read about it, the more sickening it becomes. These violent, degrading acts should have no place in the real world, so why recreate them in the virtual one?