Do violent video games affect my 18-month-old son?

Do violent video games affect my 18-month-old son? 150 150 Mediatrics

Q: I am concerned about the negative impact that violent video games may be having on my 18-month-old son. He is at a babysitter’s, where there are shooter-type video games being played often! Should I remove my son from this environment, before any harm is done?
Curious about Childcare in Prince Albert, SK,

A: Dear Curious,

I commend you for being aware that what’s in your son’s environment will affect him. It is important to speak with your babysitter to understand who is playing the games, and when and where they are doing so. Research has shown that even children as young as your son may be affected by what they are exposed to on a TV screen.

Some of the effects are indirect. For example, from birth to age two, one of the things kids most need is face-to-face interaction with other people. An adult who is distracted by, say, playing video games or watching TV cannot
also give a child the kind of focused attention he needs.

In addition to distracting the babysitter, research has also shown that the video games are probably also distracting your son, even if he does not appear to be paying attention to the screen. Research shows that young children who play in a room where a TV is on in the background do not stay focused on their own play as well as they do when there is no TV–and at this age, learning to maintain attention is some of his most important developmental work.

In terms of the violence in the video games, research is not clear on how much an 18-month-old can interpret from a screen. However, there is evidence that babies respond to tone, even if they don’t understand content, and that they are attuned to the feelings of their caregivers. So even if your son doesn’t understand the violence, he may feel anxiety based on the images and sounds that are in this environment.

Given the potential effects, it might be worth asking your sitter to change this part of the environment. Just as you might ask whether your babysitter knows First Aid or how they choose to address bad behavior, you can ask how he or she will use media around your child. It would be ideal if the sitter would agree to eliminate the videogames when your child is around.  However, if that is not possible, perhaps you could suggest that the games be played in a room where a door can be closed and your son will be taken elsewhere to play.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician