How do I get my 4 year old’s grandpa not to play violent video games with him?

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on October 28, 2011

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

Q:My father-in-law bonds with my 4-year-old son by playing video games. Recently, he bought a LEGO pirates game, rated for 10 year olds, and the two play it for about an hour every time they see each other. I love that they spend time together, but since they started playing this game, my son has become more violent. My father-in-law doesn’t see the problem, even though I’ve tried talking with him about it. Is there research that might help convince him to choose other bonding activities?

-Baffled over bonding in Palo Alto, CA

A: Dear Baffled,

You know your child better than anyone else, so you are most sensitive to a change in his behavior—and you are in the best position to guide him toward the person you want him to become.

Research agrees with your observations, showing that video games are excellent tools for teaching whatever they focus on. They can teach players to build a city—or to see violent acts as okay, as may be true in your son’s case. The fact that these games are such good teachers might help explain why research has linked playing violent ones with increased aggressive behavior, increased attention problems, and decreased helping behaviors.

Thus, there are good reasons to help your father-in-law shift how he connects with your son. First, point out the important role he plays in your son’s life—because he is a trusted and loved role model, your son will see anything he brings as something he endorses. So if he wants to connect through video games, encourage him to choose games that offer information and skills that he wants his grandson to have. And don’t rely on the age recommendations on the labels—researchshows that games are often rated by the industry ratings as less violent than they actually are. Instead, look at parent-oriented reviews  for ideas.

Finally, encourage your father-in-law to connect with his grandson through creative, hands-on activities like playing with real building blocks and developing stories about them together. Such imaginative, open-ended play is a great way to build your 4 year old’s brain, and it’s a great way for him to connect with his grandfather.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

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