Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Children and Gaming

Mark J. Kline | 31 Jan 2012 15:00
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When you think about it, it's just common sense to protect them from experiences they will likely find upsetting and confusing, and most parents do this instinctively.

Even if one accepts this rationale for regulating the exposure of young children to potentially upsetting material, how bad is the risk to them if they are exposed--will they all be horribly traumatized?

No parent is perfect and many little children are exposed to things we'd rather spare them. My experience is that many are quite resilient and able to move quickly beyond these episodes, while parental guilt and apprehension lingers. Although we can't be sure that an episode of exposure will be traumatic for a particular child, it does seem possible that chronic and unfiltered experiences at very tender ages could do damage. While most children can overcome occasional lapses in parental protection, chronic failure can put them at risk.

Getting back to the video itself, I personally found the little girl's reactions to be entirely appropriate for a child of three. She had a rather silly and slightly angry interaction with the NPC, and she seemed confused, scared and maybe horrified at the violence, some of which she initiated, while the rest apparently came down upon her character. Could she have learned an important lesson from all this ("people don't want to be sword") and just what is that lesson? If you don't listen and attack authorities, bad things will happen to you? Scary, terrifying things that you don't understand happen in videogames? It doesn't feel too good to "be sword" (which I interpret to mean being attacked with a sword)?

Any of this and more could be going on. Maybe she is learning to find violence fascinating and intriguing. Maybe she'll be terrified for a week and have nightmares about her experience. Maybe this is going on in her house all the time (it is apparently a family of gamers) and she'll come to see this is a way of having fun.

In a way, the clip is like a projective test in psychology: that is, we can see whatever we want to see in it. I see a little girl who probably got a little too deep into gaming before she was ready, you see a terrible trauma in the making. Or maybe you see a kid learning how to game. Her parents may well help her process this and other experiences and she may not be harmed or traumatized.

That doesn't change my view that the prevailing wisdom about protecting very young children from these kinds of experiences is probably worth heeding. It's hard to predict which kids are more vulnerable to anxiety issues and other stress reactions, and in my work, we see plenty of this nowadays. It's probably better to provide a safe and more sanitized magical world for a child as long as we can. Childhood ends all too soon anyway.

Dr. Mark Kline does not talk aloud to video game characters while playing. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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