I used to worry that my kids played too many video games, especially my 11-year old son who is obsessed with Minecraft. Like many parents, I fretted over how much time Billy spent gaming and what effects his hobby of choice was having on his health, wellbeing, social life, Vitamin D intake, etc. If you can imagine it, you can bet I worried over it! After reviewing the research on kids and video games, I still worry, but I worry less. What I found was that there may be as many benefits to gaming as there are drawbacks, and there are ways that parents can help their kids make the most of their gaming experiences while still having lots of fun.
The Advantages of Social Play
When we think of kids and video games, we often conjure up images of zombie kids sitting in the dark alone, eyes glued to screen. Often, though, gaming is a much more social experience for children. A recent study revealed that kids enjoy playing video games together as much, or perhaps more, than playing alone. Both cooperative and competitive game play can teach kids valuable social and emotional skills such as teamwork, sportsmanship, and negotiation. If you’re worried about your kid’s screen time, ask him to invite a friend over to play video games with him. Research has also shown that kids benefit when their parents play video games with them as well, so don’t hesitate to get in on the fun! Of course, even social play should come with time limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. Use this guideline as a way of helping your child prioritize his or her digital activities.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make when it comes to managing their kids screen time is that they group all digital media in the same category. Although setting time limits for media consumption can be helpful, it’s just as important to monitor the quality of the media your child is consuming, including which video games he’s playing. An hour spent playing Angry Birds, for instance, is not the same as engaging in creative play with Minecraft, which has been touted as one of the most educational games for kids (thank goodness!).
The Values Issue
Not only do video games differ in terms of their educational value, but they also send different messages to kids, some better than others. For instance, violent, first-person shooter games may send youth questionable messages and have even been shown to increase aggressiveness. But games don’t have to be violent to be inappropriate. Consider the popular game It Girl, which challenges users to be the hottest girl in town by purchasing clothes, attracting boyfriends, and attempting to be as popular as possible. Yikes! With games like these out there, it’s definitely important that you monitor which ones your kids are playing and just say no to unsuitable titles. Common Sense Media is a wonderful resource for learning more about the games your kids are playing.
Though it’s reassuring to know that video games aren’t going to rot my tween’s brain or turn him into a recluse, I will still nudge him to play with his sisters and invite him on bike rides when the weather is nice. I want him to know that while video games can be fun, there’s so much more to life!
What do you think Which video game titles do your kids play How do you manage screen time at your house?
About Melissa Maypole
Melissa Maypole is Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Qustodio, a parental control software that helps parents monitor children's activities from connected devices. You can find her on the front lines of the uphill battle to successfully parent four kids in a high-tech world. Readers can follow or contact Melissa on Twitter @MelissaMaypole.