January is just starting and with it, the long awaited summer break for children and teenagers who after a year of studying, only want to have fun and enjoy their free time. However, it you think that video games are a healthy and entertaining way of spending time during this school break, think again!
It has been shown that children and teenagers between the ages of 9 to 17 years old are the most frequent video game users. In addition, a study conducted in 2008 by the Programa Sociedad de la Información y Conocimiento (PROSIC) at the University of Costa Rica, showed that it is even more common among men and among those people with higher socioeconomic status.
But, as a parent, have you ever stopped and considered the consequences of giving your children a video game console or game as a gift, especially if it is a violent one? By doing so, you are not only promoting a sedentary lifestyle in your children, exposing them to negative health consequences such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, but will also cause your children to interact less with other kids and people around them, affecting their ability to socialize and relate to others.
But perhaps the most dangerous effect is the one presented in early December by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers, who were able to show that video games, especially those with a violent theme, may alter brain function in those who play them.
For the first time, and after having 28 healthy men, ages 18 to 29, undergo a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis, researchers were able to establish a direct relationship between playing video games and subsequent changes in brain function. After one week of violent game play, participants showed less activation in certain brain regions that are directly related to cognitive function and emotional control and inhibition.
Although it has not been determined if these are permanent effects, the study assessed participants after refraining from playing for one week and found that activation increased but did not completely normalize, showing that violent video games may cause long-term effects in brain function.
As a result, these findings have reignited the controversy about the behavioral and health effects that video games may have on those who play them and, although in the United States the topic has already been discussed by government authorities, in Costa Rica it has yet to be determined whether some kind of limitation or regulation should be established for their use and sale.
For now, both parents as well as those who devote their spare time to playing video games should always use common sense and follow this advice:
- Establish a playing schedule and limit the time, either in a weekly or daily basis, that kids spend playing video games.
- Before purchasing or giving your kids a video game, review the rating information that indicates the appropriate age group and content and which is located in the back of each game.
- If possible, avoid video games with violent content.
- It has been shown that 1 in every 10 users is addicted to video games, causing some to lie, miss work and other obligations and even steal in order to get money to satisfy their playing urge. In these cases, do not hesitate to seek professional help from your healthcare providers.