Video games: Help or hazard to children's health?
By PATRICIA McCORMACK, UPI Health Editor
Are video games hazardous to children's health -- as
the nation's Surgeon General C. Everett
Koop said the other day in Pittsburgh?
It depends, authorities say. Even Koop, a Philadelphia pediatrician,
later made it plain he was expressing a personal opinion that was not based on
That clarification came after the National Coin
Machine Institute accused Koop of making a "rash and unthinking, thinly
veiled bid for media exposure" that might damage "a legitimate and
important industry, one of the few where employment remains high. "
The trouble with picking on video games is this,
concerned experts say: There is no nice, neat body of research that can provide
a "yes" or "no" answer to questions about the effect of the
games on developing children and adolescents.
The reason: video games came on the scene almost out
of nowhere, proliferated, and now blanket the country. They have not been around long enough to
They are tucked into candy stores near schools,
sprawl in huge arcades, make money for activities on college campuses, gobble
quarters in bars, and almost everywhere have established a beachhead in homes
and even hospitals.
Most concern over the video games stems from the
unknown long-range effect on kids who become video game addicts. A report at the annual meeting of the
American Academy of Pediatrics last month claimed this is happening and that
some kids skip school to keep the play going.
The report from Dr.
H. James Holroyd, University of
Southern California "technology abuse" specialist and professor of
pediatrics, said some children finance their play with snitched quarters.
Holroyd defines "technology abuse" as the
misuse of such devices as video games, wearable stereos, television and
The La Canada, Calif. , pediatrician said he has documented reports from Gamblers
Anonymous that greatly disturb him when he thinks of kids hooked on video
games -- the newest possible victims of
"technology abuse. "
Holroyd said the WL studies show those who get into
the worst trouble gambling were hooked on pinball machines in adolescence.
Holroyd also is chairman of the American Academy of
Pediatrics Committee on Accident Prevention and Poison Control. The time that addicted kids spend before
video game sets -- in arcades or in their homes -- upsets Holroyd.
The youngsters are missing social interaction,
school and exercise – main threads in the fabric of an adolescent's life, he
Holroyd predicted hooked kids have a good chance of
winding up as stunted adults. They will
not be fully developed socially, intellectually, emotionally and perhaps not
even physically -- due to trading off sports and exercise time for a long,
daily rendezvous with the video game.
On the lower level of Pennsylvania Station in New
York City, kids outside a huge video game arcade intercept commuters to beg
Should the kids be in school? If they don't get the
quarters by begging, is a rip-off the next step? Are they addicted?
The scene is not rare on the on the electronic
In East Bernard, Texas, Mary Ann Leveridge,
president of the National PTA, says truancy linked to video games is a
"Everywhere I go people talk about video games,
caused some problems, ” she said.
"They've Mrs. Leveridge has
been in 38 states over the past 15 months, and concern over video games comes
from everywhere, she said. The PTA's
board, which Mrs. Leveridge heads, just
adopted a position statement on video games.
"The PTA is concerned over the increasing
number of video game sites which may have an adverse effect on many of the
young people who frequent such establishments, " the report begins.
"Initial studies have shown that game sites are
often in close proximity to schools. In
many cases there is not adequate control of access by school-age children
during school hours and which compounds the problem of school absenteeism and
"Where little or no supervision exists,
drug-selling, drug use, drinking, gambling, increased gang activities and other
such behaviors may be seen.
"Where there is diligent supervision and
adequate lighting, however, the interest of the customers centers on the
games. . . ”
"State PTAs should encourage their units to
become aware of, and to educate their membership and community regarding,
activities of young people at business establishments having video game
machines, and the impact these machines have on school attendance, alcohol and
drug activity. "
Leveridge said that, "Testing in Texas shows children in grades 3,
5, and 9 have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction. All that time spent before the television
set seems to have something to do with it.
Video games can't help the situation.
"The higher thinking skills are learned by
At the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. David Pearl said no federal money currently
is behind research on the effect of video games. However, Pearl, chief of the behavioral sciences research branch,
said he would consider funding proposals that are solidly structured.
Pearl directed recent studies that found many
children and youths have been desensitized to violence as a result of viewing
murders and brawls on TV.
Psychologists say when people are desensitized to
violence they are not likely to go to the rescue of persons in distress. They just watch.
Pearl said if what was learned from the television
study applies to the video games, he thinks there's a real problem.
He personally feels violence is an element in video
games and that the effect on behavior will be negative for some players.
Holroyd doesn't see much hope of curbing violence in
video games, if past is prologue.
"During the past 10 years, " he said,
"most studies have suggested that TV violence is strongly correlated with
aggressive behavior. The American
Academy of Pediatrics in January of 1977 called for a reduction in the amount
of violence shown on TV, and the elimination of violence in programming aimed
at young audiences.
"But little or nothing has changed. "
Holroyd deplored the fact there is little or no
research on the effect of abusive use of video games by children and
"The abuses surfacing early in the era of these
relatively new games are causing parental and community concern, '' he
"The industry presently is making approximately
$6 billion per year. Some 22 billion
quarters per year drop into the slots of video games.
"Many of those are dropped by teenagers, using
their lunch money or money earned for future education from newspaper and other
. . thefts from parents and others are reported to maintain the
"Another concern in communities across the
country is the absenteeism from schools by teenagers playing the arcade’s video
"This has reached such an extent in some parts
of the country that city ordinances have been passed limiting video game
arcades in various ways. ''
Here's how Holroyd wound up his "technology
abuse" report to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
"Society's problem is how to deal effectively
with video games as a new technology impacting our youth.
"There is a struggle going on between video
games and other priorities for their time -- concentration, social development,
use of their available money and their psychological maturity.
"Video electronic advances may be one of the
big sleepers waiting to help us prevent the very abuse we fear. In video games . . . we
may have our best tool to accomplish what we missed as TV advanced, and prevent
abuse early. ''
The technology that sired video games can be turned
to good use, Holroyd claimes.
"The use of computers in academic games as part
of the learning process in our schools is perfectly consistent with the world
of our teenagers' future, '' he said.
"Where schools have begun this technology, the
students have caught fire and become as eager learners as they were eager '
arcade freaks. '
"Given the opportunity to use this new
technology in such positive ways may decrease abuse of the same.
Under controlled use, Holroyd said, "all of the
abusive problems could disappear. Even
in the home, video television game -type homework could be an educational
"Society, however, needs to persuade the
video-production industry to produce responsible, educational material for this
fantastically available education tool.
"Even in the recreational arcade or home video
games, programming can be of a positive nature.
"The industry can produce it, if we insist that
it is necessary and salable.
"Couldn't a teenager enjoy an exciting chase,
or game of survival against the elements to help a person or save a life, just
as much as going for a ‘kill’?
"I believe they could. "
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