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Should I Let my Child Play Violent Video Games?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Parents need to make their own choices before exposing children to violent video games. There is still speculation at the degree to which children may be harmed by playing these games. Studies in this matter do show that children tend to exhibit more aggressive behavior directly after playing violent games, but many argue that few children exposed to such violence will grow up to be violent people.

There are few long-term studies that show correlations between violence in adults as directly tied to violent video games, or any type of exposure to violent media. The games with extreme violence that became popular in the 1990s, like Grand Theft Auto, have not been around long enough to prove that they create aggressive adults.

However, studies on even E-rated (approved for "everyone") games do show that children respond aggressively, especially right after playing a video game with any violence. Further, they do not simply mimic the violence of the game, like practicing karate kicks for example. They may go further and may hit, bite, pull hair, or otherwise attack those around them. The same results have also been found in children who watch E-rated television shows with so-called “fantasy” violence.

Some studies do also show correlation between playing violent video games and aggression in young children, teens and college level adults. Such studies point to increased fighting at school, misbehavior in school, and also criminal behavior of violent sorts in teens. Some argue that correlation is not causation. Though studies show a link, some suggest, it is not proof that the link provides the cause. In other words, the video games may not cause violent behavior but may be simply be coincidental to those who would be violent.

This argument does have some weight, but it cannot be proven that the correlation does not indicate cause. Further, it is clear that some children are at greater risk for aggression and potentially criminal behavior later in life. These children may not always be in populations considered at risk, mainly children with a history of abuse and males. Across the board, the studies showed that children of both sexes from good family structures and poor ones exhibited increased aggression after exposure to violent games.

Another factor that needs to be considered by parents who might let their children watch or play violent video games or television is the relatively passive nature of both. Children often work out aggressive feelings through activity and exercise. Hours spent in front of the TV watching anything, even if it is Sesame Street, means less exercise opportunities for the child. When one adds aggression factors after exposure to violence to lack of activity, one can temporarily have a very aggressive child on one’s hands.

The questions for all parents should be at present: In what way does exposure to violent video games benefit my child? What are the benefits of playing such games at an early age? Do these benefits outweigh potential negative causes?

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon347549 — On Sep 08, 2013

Honestly, the way I see it, it doesn't even matter if a child is presented to adult content, even at twelve years old. Say some kid, maybe 12, went into Gamestop, to get Grand Theft Auto IV with his parents, they learn about the content of the game, they go "woopdey-doo", and buy the game for their son/daughter. They get home, and the kid plays the game. They get home, and the kid plays the game. Maybe he goes and kills a few dozen hookers, completes the story, runs over countless civilians, and maybe even robs the taxi driver.

Now, even so, a normal kid will not want to just go out and kill a bunch of random people due to a video game. By that age, they can distinguish the difference between video games and real life perfectly well. Hell, my ten year old brother knows the difference. The parents still have the authority to choose if their kid can have the game. Maybe if he has severe schizophrenia, maybe you ought to consider not letting him play GTAIV. I don't know.

If a kid wants to go kill people and commit crimes, then he/she was going to do that anyway, at some point. Even if games don't expose children to violence, TV and other media, will. If we were to try to restrict the laws regarding parents buying M-rated games for their children, that would prove to do jack-all. In the end, so what if a parent buys their child a violent game? I got GTAIV when I was twelve or thirteen, because I found the story (guess what, parents of the world, the game actually has a story to it) intriguing, and sure, I had fun racking up the police/my wanted level. It did not make me a psychopath, or anything else, and neither did it do that to the other 97 percent of children who play violent video games. I'll count the other 3 percent as problem children, who were going to commit crimes and kill people anyway.

By anon330445 — On Apr 16, 2013

It won't matter if children play violent video games or not, as long as they aren't crazy in the first place. If they are wise enough to not repeat violent acts, such as a 12 or 13 year old, then they should be allowed.

Parents should watch what their children play, read online about it, or watch friends play it, as this could make the child think that violence is cool, and should be a part of everyday life. If they are five years old, then they shouldn't grow up on this. But older children can.

By anon322823 — On Mar 01, 2013

I've never heard anything about a "bite, and pull hair" reaction from E-rated games.

By anon322047 — On Feb 25, 2013

I'm 12, but my mom won't let me get a rated T game. It is rated it for: cartoon violence, mild language and animated blood. Should she let me get it?

By anon282867 — On Jul 31, 2012

I think it depends on the person. If they have really bad angry problems then they should not play these games. But if they do have and can control it, then it's fine.

I am 14 and I am allowed to play grand theft auto and other violent video games and I don't have any mental problems. I disagree with saying if you're bad at school, it means it's caused by the games. And it's bull. How, when there is a shooting, do the media choose to pick the violent video games? Although, sometimes, it is.

By optimousmiky — On Feb 14, 2011

@anon152605: And again, video games don't cause violence or anything else. It's the person's fault and my dad is that way so i take after him and I'll be having kids and I know what it's like because I have to look after my little cousins. Kids should be able to play any game they want. So what if it's violent? It doesn't affect the kid in any way. It's the kid's fault if he does it. He should know, as I did, that it's wrong. It's called common sense -- something no one has anymore and there are no characteristics. It's called personality and that is mine. Everyone is different and kids again should be able to play GTA. my kid will, for sure.

By anon152605 — On Feb 14, 2011

@optimousmiky: You really are not fine. Noted in your writing, your are aggressive, defensive and prone to attack. You exhibit these three damaging characteristics on a simple and opinionated topic. Mind you, this is a topic for adults, adults with children. You citing yourself as an example was more than damaging to your argument.

By optimousmiky — On Dec 30, 2010

@Kamchatka letting your kids play violent games doesn't affect your kids in any way at all and I've played them since I was four and I played Grand Theft AUto at age 8. Kids should be able to play any type of game that they want to play or watch it. So what if they see? Who cares? I'll let my kids play violent video games as soon as they can hold a controller and the first game they play is Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.

By optimousmiky — On Dec 30, 2010

@bbpuff kids should be able to play any game that they want because it doesn't affect kids. I played violent games since I can remember, which is at four.

By optimousmiky — On Dec 30, 2010

I think playing violent video games is OK. it doesn't matter what age you are. I started playing violent video games at age four and I was born in 92. I played Mortal Combat 3 at age four and Killer Instinct at four and I played Grand Theft Auto at age 8 and I'm fine.

If you don't let your kids play violent video games, think again. What will they do when they see real violence? Yeah, that's right. They won't know what to do.

Violent video games don't affect kids at all. It's human nature to be violent and who cares? big whoop. Your kid's playing violent video games. Who cares? It doesn't affect your kids, nor does it cause violence!

By ellaesans — On Nov 09, 2010

It is definitely a personal parenting choice whether you let your child play video games that are rated above his or her age. The good thing about the gaming industry nowadays, though, is that there are so many options in educational gaming and as for violent video games, you are really teaching your child nothing. I think it's a waste of time personally, but understand that the decision is a personal matter of opinion.

By Kamchatka — On Nov 09, 2010

@bbpuff - I really think that allowing your children to play violent video games effects them in different ways. If your child is a mature person, then they might be able to handle and understand that aspects of the game without having violent tendencies themselves. I think that it should be in the parent's discretion just as this article states and really because this is a matter of opinion type question that this is the only logical answer.... even though I agree that games like Grand Theft Auto should not be played OR viewed by children that young (five years old) simply because violent video games often include more than just fighting or blood, but also profanity and even inappropriate situations as well. It's your brother in law's choice to let them play it, but you don't have to let it happen around your child!

By bbpuff — On Nov 09, 2010

@plaid - I agree and would like to add that video games have ratings on them like movies do simply for this reason alone. If the game is not rated, it doesn't head out. And when it says mature, that means that no one should play it that's under 17, let alone watch it.

I have a 5 year old and my brother in law has three boys who play things like Grand Theft Auto. They seem to not understand (they are 15, 13, and 9 or 10 I think) that I don't want my 5 year old watching that junk. Violent video games and young children is NOT okay.

By plaid — On Nov 09, 2010

I think this subject is just as controversial as feminism or the pro life, pro choice subject matter. I believe that gaming parents (that is, parents that grew up with games and gaming) are more likely to not care what their child plays, sees and/or hears. Video games can be violent, yes, but the fact of the matter is that you as a parent need to make that choice when your child is unable to make it. You are the one purchasing the games and you should be the one to put your foot down.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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