It might seem harmless for a child to blow off steam by playing an aggressive video game. But playing such games or watching violent movies may cause your child to act in a negative or violent way in real life.


An international study found that children who regularly play war games or video games with weapons are more likely to develop aggressive behaviors and symptoms of depression.

While many parents look at ratings to decide if games are appropriate for their child, the rating system may not always be reliable. Ratings for video games usually are set by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Although it is an independent group, ESRB depends on video game creators to report aspects of their game that may not be appropriate for younger children, such as language, violence and sexual content. And research shows that video games with restrictive ratings are even more attractive to children. Parents should be aware of this “forbidden-fruit” effect.

Many video games also have been criticized for including sexual images of women. In addition, males are portrayed as heroes far more often than females.

Despite these pitfalls, video games can have positive messages. Parents can look for “prosocial” games that teach lessons of helping rather than hurting. Just as violent video games may cause aggressive habits, prosocial games may lead to compassionate behaviors such as generosity and kindness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting video game play to two hours per day for older children. Screen time should be avoided for children under age 2.

Parents also should learn about the games their child is playing and the ESRB rating system at An independent review of many popular games and other media is available through the nonprofit group Common Sense Media, Keep in mind that ratings may not reflect your family’s values, and remember to consider your child’s maturity level when choosing video games.

© 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics. This Parent Plus may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.