If your child likes gaming, you might wonder if violent games like Fortnite are bad for kids.

Gaming is a favorite pastime for countless kids across the world.

Today’s video games are action-packed and filled with dynamic and engaging visuals. While some games are kid-friendly, others contain violence. Fortnite is one example, challenging each player to be the lone survivor after engaging in combat with up to 100 other players.

Are these violent games bad for kids? Research is mixed, but there’s evidence that cutting back can be beneficial.

Over 90% of American children and teens spend a substantial amount of time playing video games.

Many kids can enjoy gaming without adverse effects. But some may display behaviors that suggest spending a lot of time gaming isn’t healthy for them.

Mental health professionals are paying closer attention to video games’ effect on regular players.

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision (ICD-11) to include internet gaming disorder (IGD) as a diagnosable condition.

Although IGD isn’t diagnosable yet in the U.S., the American Psychological Association has included it as a condition for further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

Here’s what the research has found so far:

Poor sleep quality

A large 2021 meta-analytic review found that problematic gaming was associated with poor sleep quality and less sleep. Participants also experienced sleep schedule disruption and waking up in the middle of the night.

Aggressive feelings and decreased empathy

Fortnite is a shooter game that’s part of the battle royale game genre. Battle royale is combat among many players until only one remains.

A 2022 study of Japanese students found that battle royale games were associated with aggressive feelings, a sense of underachievement, and gaming addiction.

Meanwhile, a review and brain scan study found no evidence linking violent video games to youth aggression or reduced empathy.

Stress response

A 2017 study found that playing video games increased cortisol and cardiovascular arousal, plus the accessibility of aggressive thoughts.

Encourages cooperation

Research suggests that violent games can be supportive when they involve cooperation with other players. A small 2021 study including 845 children 9 to 12 years of age found that co-player games involving violence produced more post-play helping behaviors than co-player games with neutral content.

Symptoms of unhealthy gameplay

The research is mixed. So how can you tell if violent video games are hurting your child?

If your child is experiencing adverse effects from regular gaming, you might notice that they seem:

  • distracted
  • irritable
  • anxious
  • sad
  • aggressive
  • hostile

But not all kids act this way because of gaming. It could be due to other causes.

Still, research points to a connection between regular video game play, violence in video games, and mental health changes in some people. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, it’s worth assessing their gaming habits.

Areas of the brain affected

A 2020 study showed white and gray matter changes in those who spent excessive time playing violent video games compared to age-matched controls.

If gaming is affecting your child’s behavior, it could be from changes to some brain regions:

  • reduced gray matter density
  • decreased white matter structure
  • structural and functional changes to the neural reward system

If you think gaming is harmful to your child, there are ways you may be able to help.

1. Reduce screen time

The AAP includes high amounts of gaming time as a risk factor for IGD, so kids who play without time limits may have an increased chance of unwanted issues.

Children with limits often spend less time in violent gameplay. It helps to have other activities available once they’ve used up their screen time.

2. Parent participation

Gaming isn’t just a pastime for many kids. It’s their culture, supported by a diverse community of like-minded comrades.

If you pick up a controller and join in, you send the message that your child’s interests matter. You gain access to their inner world and forge a connection that can lead to more time spent in shared activities away from screens.

3. Non-violent games

Gaming with your child is an opportunity to encourage them to make less violent choices.

Using a turn-taking approach, you can have them try a non-violent game with you after you’ve played their favorite combat game. Making this a repeated routine activity gives your child more exposure to family-friendly games and more time spent with you.

4. Stress reduction

Real-life stress may be a bigger cause of kids’ strife than on-screen violence. Gaming may be problematic if it replaces bonding time with parents, which studies link to better emotional regulation in children.

5. Green space

If you have access to natural settings like a park or backyard, this can benefit your child. A systematic review of 12 original research pediatric articles found that access to green space offered multiple benefits, including improvements to:

  • mental well-being
  • cognitive development
  • attention
  • memory
  • self-discipline
  • stress reduction

Regular time spent in nature also means your child spends less time in front of screens. Plan family activities outside whenever possible.

Engaged coping strategies

Helping your child learn healthy and engaged coping strategies may reduce some unwanted effects of regular gaming.

For many players, online gaming represents an opportunity to escape real-world issues. A study revealed that an individual’s approach to coping strategies in real life might determine the outcome they experience from escapist gaming.

The study found a connection between disengaged, problem-focused coping strategies and negative gaming outcomes.

Meanwhile, coping strategies that include problem-solving and social support had a more positive effect on gaming outcomes.

Most young people enjoy gaming. However, some of the more popular games contain violence, causing concerns for parents.

While studies have shown mixed results and more research is needed, some studies connect violence in video games to adverse effects on children.

Fortunately, there are strategies parents can use that may reduce unwanted issues from video games. Examples include reduced screen time and increased green time.

Therapy is another option to consider. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy effective in reducing problematic gaming. With a combination of your support and concrete strategies, your child can minimize gaming side effects and prioritize connection.