Teenagers and Violent Video Games: Questions Following the Newtown Shooting

In the aftermath of the nation’s most tragic school shooting, many people across the nation are asking questions to try to understand how this could have happened and how events like this can be prevented in the future. The issues coming to light are age old debates such as gun control and school security, and the link between violent video games and aggressive behavior among teenagers and young people. Adam Lanza, the killer behind the horrific Newtown massacre, was an avid video gamer who played violent video games such as Call of Duty for hours. Do playing violent video games translate to real life violence? Research into this issue shows evidence supporting both sides of the argument.

In August of 2005 the American Psychological Association called for a reduction of violence in video games used by children and adolescents. The APA based this recommendation on research showing exposure to violent video games increased “aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and angry feelings among youth. In addition, this exposure reduces helpful behavior and increases physiological arousal in children and adolescents,” as stated in the press release announcing its recommendation.

In 2010 researchers from the APA found that video game violence increases aggression in teenagers with certain personality traits such as high neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness. In the study, teenagers without these traits were either not affected or only slightly affected by video game violence. On the other hand, studies from this year suggest that long-term playing of violent video games does indeed increase aggression and even compared its affect to smoking addiction. “A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression,” says lead author of the study Professor Brad Bushman.

A blog from the Washington Post on December 17th of this year titled Ten-Country Comparison Suggests There’s little or No Link between Video Games and Gun Murders argues that there is no statistical correlation between video games and gun-related killings. With exception to the United States, countries with the highest consumption of video games are among the safest countries in the world and data shows that as video game consumption increases violence decreases.

The only thing that is certain is that more research is needed to determine whether violent video games can be linked to acts of violence.  It is not known whether playing violent video games creates aggression or whether aggressive teens are more likely to play violent video games.

Tips for Parents

Like any recreational activity for teenagers, limits should be placed on how much time can be devoted to playing video games. Moderation is the key here. All video games are rated for age appropriateness by the following categories


  • Early Childhood – content intended for young children


  • Everyone: Generally suitable for all ages. May contain mild violence and/or frequent use of mild language
  • Everyone 10+:  Generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes.
  • Teen: Generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
  • Mature: Generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
  • Adults Only: Content suitable for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, and/or gambling with real currency.


Make sure that your teen is playing an age appropriate game and remember that you always have the final say in what video games your teenager plays. Even though the ratings are given to provide a guideline for the appropriate age group, you must decide if it is really appropriate for your teen to be mature enough to understand the difference of fantasy and real life consequences and if they should really be playing with a game that allows them to commit crimes, be violent, or use harsh language.  Despite what research does or doesn’t show, you must decide what impression you want being made on your teenager.  Check your teen’s mood after playing violent video game to gauge whether it may be affecting their aggression levels. Avoid allowing your teen to play video game before bed time as it has been found to affect sleep patterns. Setting up the game console outside of the bedroom is a good way to regulate playing time. Finally, encourage your teen to partake in healthier activities such as sports and after-school events to reduce the amount of time spent playing video games. 

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By Miguel Brown