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Perspectives on youth and technology

Violent Video Games and Weapon Carrying in School

Youth who are exposed to violent media may be more likely to carry weapons .

Just over one in twenty high school students have carried a weapon to school in the past month.  Research suggests that youth who carry weapons are more likely to be aggressive and engage in behaviors such as fighting, substance use, and being suspended from school. Some studies have also found that youth who are being bullied or otherwise victimized may bring a weapon to school for ‘protection.’

Beyond behavior and experiences, less is known about exposures, particularly the role that violent media may play in weapon carrying. We address this very question in a study just released in the journal, Aggressive Behavior. Using information from almost 1500 youth 9-18 years of age who play video games and go to public or private school, we found that:

Amount of hames that depict violence based upon whether teen carried a weapon
Ybarra, M., Huesmann, L., Korchmaros, J., Reisner, S. (2014) "Cross-sectional associations between..."

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1. Youth who carried weapons to school in the past 30 days played more games that had violence in them than youth who did not carry a weapon to school. (Figure left)

Carried a weapon to school in the past 30 days

Ybarra, M., Huesmann, L., Korchmaros, J., Reisner, S. (2014) "Cross-sectional associations between..."

2. Youth who were frequently and intensely victimized by peers were more likely to carry a weapon to school in the past 30 days compared to other youth. (Figure left).

3. When we looked at youth based upon their victimization experiences and amount of violentcontent in the games they played, the highest percent of weapon carrying is reported by youth who are both ictimized and play at least some games with violence. In contrast, none of the non-victimized youth who also play non-violent games carried a weapon to school in the past month. (Figure below)

Weapon carrying based upon violent game content and victimization experiences

Ybarra, M., Huesmann, L., Korchmaros, J., Reisner, S. (2014) "Cross-sectional associations between..."

We then conducted a series of analyses that took into account other factors that could explain the relationship between playing games with violent content and carrying weapons to school. These included being victimized by peers, being an aggressive person generally, using substances, and even exposure to violent content in other media (like television).  

Even after these other characteristics are factored in, youth who play at least some games with violent content are more than 4 times as likely as youth who do not play violent games to carrying a weapon to school in the past month.

We cannot tell whether the video games are causing youth to carry weapons to school; or if there is another factor that explains why youth who carry weapons to school are also more likely to play violent video and computer games. Certainly, not all youth who carry weapons to school play violent video and computer games. And, not all youth who play violent video and computer games bring weapons to school. Our findings need to be replicated before strong conclusions should be drawn. At the same time, it is perhaps time for parents and others who work with young people to talk to our youth about the possible effects of their exposure to violence in the games they play. And this appears to be particularly important for youth who also have experiences being victimized by their peers. 

More information and figures from the study, find it here.

For more information about the Growing up with Media, go to: GrowingUpWithMedia.com

Additional information about the research we do at the Center for Innovative Public Health Research can be found at: InnovativePublicHealth.org

Michele Ybarra, MPH, Ph.D., is President and Research Director of a non-profit research organization called the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR).

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