2021 Parent Guide to the Negative Effects of Video Games

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2021 Parent Guide to the Negative Effects of Video Games

February 22, 2021
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Table of Contents

Like most hobbies, playing video games can be safe in moderation. However, younger students who have not yet developed the ability to self-regulate their behavior need guidance and support to develop those skills. With so many video games out there, it’s hard for parents to regulate who their kids are talking to online and what they are seeing online.

We asked some experts about the dangers of video gaming and what parents can do to help keep their kids safe.

Watch: The Negative Effects Of Video Games (Parent Guide)

The negative effects of video games on students

A Canadian study from McGill University shows that human-computer interactions, such as playing video games, can have a negative impact on the brain.

Some negative effects of videos games are:

  • Noticeable changes to behavior
  • Ignoring or not prioritizing responsibilities or interests over game time
  • Continuing to play games despite the negative impact it may have
  • Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleep patterns
  • Declining grades or difficulty in school
  • Can lead to social isolation
  • Poor time management skills

What are the most popular video games with teens and tweens?

Why should parents care about kids playing video games?

  • Some parents believe that their kids are safe online if they don’t have social media. However, if they play video games they are still at risk
  • You may think you're aware of your child’s gameplay, but if they're wearing a headset and playing in multiplayer mode, they are a million miles away
  • When your kid is playing video games in multiplayer mode, they are talking to people you don't know. They're talking to people who do not love your child as much as you do
  • Too much game time can have a negative impact on your student’s health

The negative effects of video games in the news

New York Times headline: Video games and online chats are 'hunting grounds' for sexual predators. Criminals are making virtual connections with children through gaming and social media platforms. One popular site warns visitors, "please be careful."
Sexual predators and other bad actors have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes... Reports of abuse are emerging with unprecedented frequency around the country, with some perpetrators grooming hundreds and even thousands of victims, according to a review of prosecutions, court records, law enforcement reports and academic studies. New York Times
Business Insider headline: Some researchers are concerned that excessive game playing could be a form of addictive behavior though this is controversial
It's quite possible that excessive time spent playing games — as with any hobby — may be unhealthy or a sign that someone is struggling. Business Insider
USA Today headline: Study confirms link between violent vido games and physical aggression
The analysis of 24 studies from countries including the U.S., Canada, Germany and Japan found those who played violent games … were more likely to exhibit behavior such as being sent to the principal's office for fighting or hitting a non-family member. USA Today
Rochester First.com headline: FBI warning parents about the dangers of playing online video games
Federal Law Enforcement officials are raising the alarm that your children may be tricked into giving personal information to complete strangers. That’s where the danger lies for children who participate. Rochester First
PC Magazine headline: 76 percent of parents concerned for children's online safety
A recent PCMag survey of 2,500 US consumers found that a majority of parents are worried about their kids’ online safety-and many respondents have never been properly educated on cybersecurity. PC Magazine

What are gaming disorder warning signs?

According to World Health Organization, which recognizes gaming disorder as a mental health condition,  there are three signs that someone might be struggling with gaming disorder:

  • Impaired control over gaming (e.g. onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  • Increasing priority is given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  • Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

Watch: How to Identify Warning Signs of a Gaming Disorder

On this episode of the SmartSocial.com Podcast, Josh Ochs chats with Morgan Seymour, LCSW, of Open Sky Wilderness Therapy about identifying warning signs of a gaming disorder and what to do if you think your child is addicted.

What are some red flags parents need to look out for?

According to Dr. Mike Bishop, tech addiction expert, these red flags indicate that your child is struggling with screen time and gaming:

  • Short tempers that are aggravated by screen time. If your kids are playing video games, you can sometimes see them getting frustrated at the game. Watch out for a quick temper and see if the game has got control over their mood
  • Kids are not able to self-soothe when they’re playing video games. This translates into the next point, which is having problems going to sleep or waking up in the morning
  • Having access to a device every night. If we let our kids use devices without limits set, without some rules and structure, they’re going to take their devices to bed with them and they’re going to be up at night browsing social media or playing games. Research says, allowing your child to have a TV or device in their room unchecked at night results in less sleep and having a harder time waking up in the morning
  • Passing up face-to-face activities for screen time activities. Another major red flag is when you see your child passing up normal opportunities for socialization or outside play

What can parents do about the negative effects of video games?

  • Play the games with your kids to understand what they are doing and to show interest in their hobbies
  • Before giving your students access to a new game, ask them to explain why they want to play it. Then, spend some time playing the game on your own and decide if it is safe for your family to play. Know that your child has perhaps already played it at their friend’s house
  • Schedule game time and set time limits beforehand
  • Use a physical timer to set time limits (like this simple kitchen timer)
  • Teach your children that video games are only to be played in moderation (or, best of all, as a family)
  • Challenge your student to find offline activities they enjoy and can add to their resume
  • Have an open dialog about video games with your children. Consider talking about the dangers of playing with strangers, sharing personal information in chats, appropriate lanuage, graphic video game content, and bullying behavior
  • Model positive screen time behaviors around your children

4 expert tips about video games

1. Focus on critical thinking skills

Melissa Corkum, Parent and Wellness Coach

Headshot of Meliss Corkum and man
Melissa Corkum

I'm a parent coach and TV talk show host who recently interviewed my gaming husband about kids and video games. We focused on how video games can be used positively to increase critical thinking skills and how kids who seem addicted to video games aren't actually lazy...quite the opposite. 

If parents feel the need to curb video game time, they should look for opportunities for their child to have adventure and purpose. A lot of games are about conquering something, so we, as parents, need to find ways to challenge our kids in real life outside of screens. Our kids need the hit of dopamine that video gaming can provide.

2. Be aware of gambling and risky decision

Will Bond, Education Writer at Twinkl

When considering the dangers of video games, it's always important to note that it isn't as binary as either being good or bad. Gaming is a very broad topic that can encompass several worrying aspects that may harm a child's development. However, these can also be mitigated, while other areas offer opportunities that can in fact benefit children's growth.

As for the harmful effects of gaming, it should be known that video game addiction is a very real concern parents should have when allowing kids to play games for unrestricted amounts of time. However, with the right oversight, this issue can be reliably averted. Likewise, many modern games contain systems similar to that of gambling. 'Loot boxes' or 'packs' are common terms for in-game items that offer a reward of variable value based purely on luck. Worse still is that these items can often be paid for using real money. Parents should be particularly aware of popular games that include these features and ensure that their child understands the dangers of gambling, how it exists in their games and that real money shouldn't be spent on purchasing luck-based items.

In contrast to these downsides though, video games can also be a source of education, a platform for healthy socializing and simply a very engaging piece of entertainment that can reduce stress. There are many excellent educational games out there that balance the fun interactivity of gaming whilst being safe and educational. Video games aren't necessarily bad, it's about monitoring play and ensuring that only the right games are played.

3. Depression and mood swings are a sign of addiction

Holly Zink, Tech Expert and Writer at Digital Addicts

While playing video games in moderation is unlikely to have any negative effects on your child, the same cannot be said for those who play excessively. Video game addiction is a real disorder, and affects many teenagers and young children. This disorder can have severe developmental effects, especially on a young child. Bouts of depression, social anxiety, mood swings and loss of interest in other activities are all signs that your child may have a gaming addiction.

If you suspect that your child may be spending too much time playing video games, the best thing you can do is set limits on their playing time. Some video games (especially those targeted at children) come with parental settings that allow you to set a maximum number of hours your child can play the game. Once their allotted time has run out, they will be unable to access the game until the next day. If your child plays a game that doesn’t have these parental settings, you can always practice the same method by taking away their electronics after a certain amount of time each day.

4. Take an interest in the games and events as a family

Lou Sabina, Professor at Stetson University

Headshot of Lou Sabina
Lou Sabina

​I would argue that the largest negative effect is developing an addiction to gaming that can distract from academics and even from children being able to form social relationships with others.  Although we are in an exciting time where there are more opportunities to build relationships through gaming due to increased online connectivity within gaming platforms, there is still something to be said from face-to-face interactions that are lost when children spend too much time playing games. 

I also think it's important to note now that many games and online gaming platforms have "events" now where a gamer "must complete a certain objective by Sunday at 11:59 PM Eastern Time" (for example) to receive a certain item within the game" and if they don't complete the task, they never have the opportunity to receive that item again.  I think this is one of the out-of-the-box things that has changed gaming over the last 5 years that has led to more and more teens staying up at all hours of the evening just to make sure they get a certain item or reward. This is classic extrinsic motivation. However, it can detract from sleep, social opportunities, and other hobbies. 

Parents should take the time to learn about the games that their children are playing, take an active interest in their gaming hobbies, but be present in their lives to show them there is a life outside of video games. It can be a hobby (it's a great hobby), but it shouldn't be the do-all and end-all in a child's life.


Whether you’re worried about addiction, online predators, or the violent nature of some of these games, the best way to keep your kids safe is to talk to them about the dangers.

To help younger players stay safe, monitor their gaming habits and help them understand ways to avoid dangers while playing. Let your kids know they can have fun online without talking to strangers. Help them establish routines and encourage them to do things outside and with friends.

Video games are fine in moderation, but they should be one of the many activities your kids do throughout the day.

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