Teen Violence and Video Games

The correlation between teen violence and video games is often debated. Learn possible effects of video gamess on children and teens, statistics on teen video game use, and tips for parents to help reduce the effects of violent video games on teenagers.

The connection between teen violence and video games is a hotly debated topic, with ongoing research not yet able to answer many questions. So far research does indicate that parents should be cautious about what games and other media their teens are exposed to and should watch for concerning signs of violence in teen gamers.

Violent media, including computer and video games, has long been believed to have some impact on teen violence. What researchers do not yet know is how much of an impact it has and what the long term impacts of video games on teen violence will be.

The number of violent video games and the realism of their violence has increased dramatically in the last two decades, while violent teenage crime has declined. Some say that this is evidence that violent games do not cause teen violence. There have been disturbing connections, however, between school shootings, teen violence and video games that are violent which may show that some individuals who are predisposed to violence are drawn to violent video games.

Not every teen who plays violent video games is going to commit a violent crime, but there may be less obvious effects of violent games on teens. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns of possible correlation of teen violence and video games in both children and teens:

  • Becoming numb toward or accepting of violence
  • Imitating violent or aggressive behavior
  • Seeing violence or aggression as an acceptable way to deal with problems
  • Having increasingly violent thoughts or behaviors
  • Becoming addicted to or obsessed with violent games and violent play
  • Learning poor social skills

Studies have shown mixed or incomplete information about teen violence and video games:

  • There does seem to be a link between violent media and violent behavior, but it's not clear if the violent media causes teen violence, or if violent people are drawn to violent media
  • Teens who enjoy violent games will probably continue to be drawn to violent games
  • Brain scans of teens who have been playing violent games do show an increase in activity in the part of the brain that controls strong emotions, like anger, and a decrease in activity in the part of the brain that is involved in self-control. These effects may only be temporary, but researchers do not yet know
  • A study of people who played a long-term online fantasy game involving violence found no major changes in the participant's aggressiveness or views toward violence by the end of the study. This does not mean small changes did not take place, nor does it mean other games might not have a more serious impact.
  • Video games may increase aggression by exposing young people to violent images, teaching violent approaches to problem solving, and increasing feelings of frustration or aggression

Parents may be concerned about violent video games, but they often do not monitor their teens' video game playing. Several studies reported by Iowa State University researchers found that:

  • Young people spend 40 hours a week or more using media for entertainment, including video and computer games. That is almost 6 hours per day, and does not include computer time spent doing schoolwork.
  • Violent video games are the most popular games among both boys and girls
  • 90% of parents do not check video game ratings
  • 89% of parents do not limit the time teens spend playing video games
  • Only 1% of parents refuse to buy games because of mature ratings

Some things parents can do to help reduce the effects of violent games on teens include:

  • Select games with appropriate ratings for children and teens, and ask the parents of teens' friends to do the same
  • Look for games that do not involve violence, like racing games, sports games, or strategy/problem solving games instead of fighting or shooting games
  • Limiting the amount of time children or teens may spend playing video or computer games each day
  • Play games with your teen or watch the games they play and discuss the violence in the game with your teen, let them know teen violence is not ok 
  • Parents should always be wary of teens interacting online with strangers, even through games, and should teach teens to be cautious about information they give out. Parents should monitor the conversations between teens and online acquaintances for violent or other dangerous content.
  • Set a good example by avoiding violent media or excessive time spent on gaming
  • Watch for concerning signs, like becoming obsessed with violent games, showing less empathy for others, or beginning to act more aggressively. Whether or not these are linked to video games, they indicate a teen may need help with anger management or another teen violence problem. This is especially important in teens who may already have an emotional or behavior disorder.

Not enough is known yet about the effects of video games to know how they impact teen behavior, but they may increase violence in some teens, and may have more subtle negative effects on others.  Video games should not take up too much of a teen's time or attention; teens should be focused on other, positive activities in addition to any time they spend with video or computer games. Parents have to make determinations about what they consider acceptable in a teen’s video game playing, and if it has any negative impacts on their behavior.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Facts for Families, "Children and Video Games: Playing with Violence" [online]

Kristin Kalning, MSNBC, "Does game violence make teens aggressive?" [online]

Henry Jenkins, PBS, The Video Game Revolution, "Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked" [online]

Andrea Lynn, University of Illinois, News Bureau, "No strong link seen between violent video games and aggression" [online]

Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, Iowa State University, Psychological Science, "Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature" [online]

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