Digital parenting session takes hard look at video games

School-aged kids are spending a lot of time in front of screens, and that needs to be managed to keep them healthy, says School District #8 Manager of Safe Schools Scott Rosenthal.

In the first of three one-hour zoom presentations on digital parenting, Rosenthal covered video games, their impacts, and what parents need to look out for. The next session is on social media, while the final session is about managing risk online, with a focus on topics such as sexting and sex-extortion.

Rosenthal says the dangers of video games range from addiction to the inability of young people to “come down” after spending significant amounts of time engrossed in tense, action-packed virtual worlds. He said he is not anti-video games and does sees some benefits, like increased processing skills and response time – but it is important to set boundaries.

Rosenthal delved into the statistics. He said most children spend an average of 9-12 hours per week playing video games. But when boys hit the age of 13, the amount of screen time generally goes up significantly, averaging 21 hours per week, as does the level of graphic violence in the games they are playing.

"The boys ages 13 to 17 have jumped into a much more hard-core, graphic, violent, I would say sexist, even in some cases homophobic video game content," Rosenthal said. "If we've got 13- to 17-year-olds and they're playing 21 hours of violence, what is that doing to them exactly?"

Rosenthal had some answers for parents as his Master's degree studies focused on the effects of violent content on young people. He said no proven link exists between this type of video game content and violent acts, but studies have shown the games can desensitize children to violence and diminish empathy levels.

Addiction is also a major issue. Rosenthal said video games cause a dopamine response, with withdrawal symptoms in some hard-core players. This has even been given an official name in psychological manuals – Internet Gaming Disorder.

Rosenthal talked about the lack of moderation in some online video game content and how that can expose children to themes parents have little control over. He mentioned games that do a better job policing content, such as Minecraft. He said this hugely popular game is well moderated and due to its blocky style is not realistic enough to portray actual violence.

In the middle of the spectrum and a game parents should be more wary of is Fortnite, which he called "one of the most addictive video games of all time," and one with far more realistic content.

He then showed images of games rated for ages 17 and older, such as Grand Theft Auto V, where the player in the clip is indiscriminately shooting police officers with impunity, and blood and gore is spraying in all directions.

For parents finding all this difficult to navigate, Rosenthal said foremost is simply paying attention to what their kids are playing and for how long. Setting ground rules, having the ability to say 'no' and checking the recommended age ranges on the games warning labels will go a long way, he says.

The next session in the series, ‘Social Media, Digital Trends,’ is scheduled for January 26, 2023 at 5:30 pm via Zoom. The final session, ‘Age of Consent/Sexting/Sexual Safety and reporting’ is scheduled for April 27, 2023 at 5:30, also on Zoom. The link to the sessions can be found on the School District 8 website at sd8.bc.ca/events/calendar.

Mark Page, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice