Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Effect Of Video Games On Our Kids

When I was a kid, I remember playing games like pong and eventually Pac Man or Frogger.  Today's video games are in a completely different league. 

When Myles was turning 5, I wanted to buy him a Nintendo DS for his birthday, but my husband was against it.  He'd seen too many kids sitting addicted like zombies and being anti-social due to a hand-held game.  I, on the other hand, felt like getting him the DS was inevitable (it was going to happen sooner or later) and that I would rather him do something active with his mind while learning dexterity and coordination than sit in front of the TV.  AND I would limit his use of it.  You see, Myles LOVES to watch TV.  He could literally sit in front of the television all day long if we let him.  So if I had to choose between TV and video games, I think I prefer the latter. I of course also read him books and do puzzles, games, etc. (just in case you thought the TV was always on - not that I'm defending myself or anything LOL).

Luckily, Myles is not addicted to his DS.  There are times he gets intensely into it, but he doesn't rush home every day to play.  It's not always top of mind.  Trying to pick him up from the after school program when the kids are in computers (and playing games) is a totally different story.  He's there with all of his friends who are also playing, or they are watching each other play, and I could literally be invisible and talking to a brick wall.  You practically have to drag him out of there kicking and screaming.  I know I'm not the only parent with this experience as I see the other parents having the same struggle.

I feel that it's impossible not to allow your child to play video games when all of the other kids play - he/she will be left behind, left out and perhaps put at a disadvantage in this world of ever-evolving technology.  But that doesn't mean that there aren't side effects, good and bad.  So what are they?

 I did a little homework and here is what I came up with (in brief):

  • Girls play for an average of about 5.5 hours/week and boys average 13 hours/week.
  • Preschoolers aged two to five play an average of 28 minutes/day.
  • The amount of time spent playing video games is increasing, but not at the expense of television viewing which has remained stable at about 24 hours/week.
  • A majority of 4th to 8th grade children prefer violent games.
  • Video games are highly interactive and motivating for children - they are rewarded for skillful play.
  • They help children develop fine motor skills and computer literacy.
  • They can be educational and improve problem-solving skills.
  • Similar to earlier studies about television, the data about children's video game habits are correlated with risk factors for health and with poorer academic performance - sitting for hours before the video game consoles can increase the risk of obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, muscular diseases and as well as skeletal and postural disorders in kids. Other more severe health effects of video games include increased heart rate and high blood pressure.  Academic performance can be effected when kids ignore their studies to play the games.
  • When video game play is analyzed for violent content, additional risk factors are observed for aggressive behavior and desensitization to violence.  Violent games increase the feeling of anger which can lead to more aggressive behaviour, and in addition, because the game rewards children for the violent behaviour, the child may be more likely to repeat it in real life.
So what can we do as parents to keep the use of video game experience as positive as possible?
  • Limit the amount of play time.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not spend more than 1-2 hours per day in front of all electronic screens - that includes TV, DVDs, videos, video games and computers (for non-academic use). This means seven to fourteen hours per week total.
  • Limit the content (be aware of ratings).  Choose educational games over violent ones.  There are enough studies out there that indicate violent games have very negative effects on our children.
  • Be aware and be involved with what your child is doing.
I don't think we can escape video games as a topic in child rearing.  Whether your child plays games at home or school, or whether they play at a friend's house, there is no doubt that video games will be a part of growing up to this and future generations of children.  So now if there were only a course to help us parents understand and learn what the heck they are playing!  I'm usually not too bad with figuring things out, but I often have trouble playing Myles'games.  FYI - I'm playing only to figure them out for him... certainly not for pleasure... I mean really, after a long day at work, I can think of better things to do than frustrate the crap out of myself trying to figure out a new game for him - but I do it for love. Anyway, I say that all jokingly but there is a serious undertone too... because it's very hard to monitor the content if you don't understand the game yourself.  For now, I will content myself with reading the game description and making sure I choose the appropriate rating.

Some references:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this nice write up about video games. Video games do have both positive as well negative impacts. Its a good way to improve many skills but we have take care of our kids when they play games and should limit the play time.

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