What parents should know about violence in video games, social media

Mental health experts say more kids are seeking help

In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, photo Henry Hailey, 10, plays one of the online Fortnite game in the early morning hours in the basement of his Chicago home. His parents are on a quest to limit screen time for him and his brother. The boys say they understand sometimes, but also complain that they get less screen time than their friends. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine) (Associated Press)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Imagine bloodshot eyes glued to a gleaming tablet as your son looks up from his game, he yells, “20 kills!”

The effects of violence in gaming and the media has been studied for decades, and have been revisited following deadly mass shootings at schools across the country.

Central Florida experienced tragedy on an unimaginable scale on June 12, 2016 when a shooter killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Since then, mental health experts such as Susie Raskin with Orlando Health have seen increasing need of services from both adults and children.

"Starting with Pulse, I started to see more and more kids voicing their concerns, what if this happened, you know, at my school?" Raskin said.

For the past 10 years, Raskin has worked for the Teen Xpress branch of the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, which is considered to be a social services arm of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.

Teen Xpress provides free support and counseling to children ages 11 to 18 years old through a mobile clinic at eight schools in Orange County.

"I feel like with every year that passes, I as a mental health counselor am busier and busier,” Raskin said.

She said there are several factors that could be leading to the influx, including a shrinking stigma surrounding mental health.

"It could be that the world that we're living in is causing additional stressors,” Raskin said.

She cited the additional pressures many teenagers deal with including part-time jobs, family responsibilities and college preparation.

"Sometimes I think that their phone use or their video game use may actually serve as a break from all that,” Raskin said.

And in that case, it’s not all bad. But parents often ask, what about bullying on social media? Or violence in video games?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recent findings on “Virtual Violence” shows a link between violent images shown in video games, movies or television and aggressive behavior. 

The AAP 2016 report stated that before social media and smartphones, “The typical child will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence (including rape and assault) before middle school.” 

Raskin admits the findings are concerning. 

"I have had students come in and say that, literally, I have a problem playing video games,” Raskin said.

While rare, Raskin said there are students who have asked their parents or family members to take away their video gaming consoles. In this case, is the concern about aggression or addiction?

"It's not black and white, so it's not what you're doing, it's how you're doing it,” Raskin said. "How are you using your social media accounts, you know, are you seeking out support? Are you connecting with friends? Or, you know, are you bullying somebody?”

Overall, Raskin considered the question of violent media unanswered. But offered this advice to parents:

“Instead of looking at it as a global issue, look at it as a family issue. You know, I mean what can my kid handle? What can my kid tolerate? Does my kid seem to get aggressive after a couple hours of Fortnite or does it seem to not really faze him or her? And I think that putting your own child's needs and preferences and abilities to cope with gaming is a smart way to see what actually works best for your own child." 

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