Video Games: Friend or Foe?

Posted on: 24.06.2015.

Author: Ana G

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The video game industry grew by 9 percent in 2013 and exceeded $76 billion in sales. That figure is expected to far exceed $80 billion by 2016.

There's no doubt about it - video games are a permanent fixture of modern life. As such, they have both positive and negative consequences for those who play them. Children in particular enjoy this popular form of media. Nearly half of all two- to four-year-olds have played video games; they're such a part of kids' lives that refusing to allow your child to participate isn't practical, let alone possible. At the same time, the emotional and psychological impact of playing them depends heavily on a child's age, their cognitive development, emotional maturity and other factors, so limiting access to some degree - and carefully monitoring consumption - is equally important.

One thing is certain. As a parent, you have a balance to strike.

Video Games Can Act as Kids’ Best Friends

Happily enough, video games can have a positive influence on children's lives. By understanding the benefits, you can help your child take better advantage of them.

Video Games as Horizon Wideners

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A very pleasant side-effect of many video games is that their back stories are often very well thought out and engaging. In fact, players often end up doing research on their own to learn more about the geography, world history and other aspects of those back stories, which are often rooted in real life events. As a parent, you're sure to be pleasantly surprised when your child asks questions about, say, World War II because of a game they were playing!

Video Games as Educators

Studies are increasingly showing that video games are the future of education. The vibrant, virtual worlds of these games hold kids' attention better than traditional lectures and provide a more innovative way to learn. The importance of computer literacy in modern society can't be emphasized enough, and video games are often kids' introduction to such technology.

Many games impart crucial problem-solving skills too. For instance, kids must learn and understand the rules and structure of a game to play it successfully. Players must often learn how to cope with limited resources, and they're often required to choose between delegating authority and cooperating with others to achieve their goals. While playing certain games, kids must learn and employ higher-order thinking skills, including strategic thinking, forming and executing plans and adapting to rapid changes.

Video Games as Social Skills Promoters

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Kids who play video games are in good company, and playing gives them a common ground on which they can forge new friendships with their peers. Certain "pro-social" games encourage players to work together and to put leadership skills to work, which helps to develop empathy for others. Funnily enough, many games - sports games, in particular - make kids curious about real-life sports and physical activities, and they provide a safe outlet for many kids' competitive urges. The social skills that are imparted extend beyond kids' peers too. Playing video games with your child can help strengthen your bond while encouraging free-flowing conversations that allow your kid to express themselves more easily.

Video Games as Motivators

Many video games go a long way toward promoting creativity and self-esteem, which are skills that will serve your child well throughout their life. Most games have objectives that must be met, and it's up to the player to work through various obstacles to achieve them. Successfully doing so provides a major boost in the self-esteem department. In terms of creativity, modern games allow - and often even require - players to customize characters' appearances and to even create new levels.

Video Games as Entertainers

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At their simplest, video games provide entertainment, and that provides all kinds of benefits for modern kids. Sitting down to play a game for an hour can elevate a player's mood considerably. The positive feelings generated by playing games - especially while winning - reduce anxiety and can even help a kid feel more relaxed and better able to cope with the hectic nature of everyday life.

Video Games as Personal Trainers

Looks can be deceiving. While players are typically seated while enjoying video games, they're also improving a variety of physical skills in subtle but meaningful ways. In particular, video games promote the development and fine-tuning of hand-eye coordination, as well as fine motor and spatial skills. These skills are honed in interactive, multisensory game worlds and in situations such as tracking a particular character in a game, which requires the player to track their position and account for the direction in which they're heading and the rate of speed at which they're moving.

Video Games Can Cause Some Trouble Too

Just as it's important to be aware of - and promote - the positive aspects of playing video games, it's crucial to understand - and try to limit - their less-positive qualities.

Video Games can Be Addictive

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For certain kids, playing video games can become an addiction, allowing them to escape reality by retreating into a virtual world where their real-life problems don't exist. That's part of the allure of such games in general, of course, but too much of a good thing can lead to addictive behaviors that may negatively impact a child's life. For instance, some children develop social phobias after being isolated with their games too often.

Video Games can Be a Bad Influence

Depending on the age, emotional maturity and other aspects of your child's personality and development, video games can be a bad influence. Some studies have shown a link between violent games and aggression in teenagers. Children who play video games too much may develop attention problems and may struggle with impulsiveness. Some games make violence such a central part of the plot that they seemingly teach children that violence is good.

Video Games can Isolate

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Kids who spend most of their free time playing video games are at risk of becoming socially isolated. That's especially true for children who struggle to make friends in the first place. Instead of actively trying to make new friends to occupy their time, kids may retreat more and more into the alluring world of video games and become far too dependent on them for happiness.

Video Games can Cause Health Problems

All too often, kids trade outdoor play and other physical activities for hours in front of video game consoles, which can lead to obesity. Also, sitting still and playing games for hours on end can cause other physical issues, including headaches, stiff necks, sore backs, eye strain and a variety of other repetitive strain injuries.

Video Games can Impart the Wrong Values

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Children - especially very young kids - are impressionable. Unfortunately, many video games actively reward players for attributes like aggression, violence and vengeance, which can make kids think those traits are desirable in real life too. Compounding the issue is that the social, multiplayer aspect of many games (FPS - First Person Shooter and MOBA - Massive Online Battle Arena in particular) exposes kids to players who use bad language and who engage in bad behavior. Impressionable kids may mimic these traits in real life.

Video Games can Blur Important Lines

Finally, video games can blur the lines between fantasy and reality, especially for very young players. Playing too often and for prolonged periods of time can even make kids gradually replace their offline lives with online ones. In turn, they have less time for important, everyday activities like homework and household chores. That may be somewhat understandable, but excessive video game playing can also take away time that would otherwise be used to interact with people in real life, which can lead to isolation.

Managing Your Child's Video Game Consumption

As evidenced by the information above, video games can, indeed, be friends and foes. As a parent, you can actively promote the former by keeping a few simple tips in mind.

Get Educated

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Like movies, all video games are given ratings. These ratings reflect the kind of content that's depicted in a game so parents can quickly understand what their kids will be exposed to while playing. At a glance, you can learn the age-appropriateness of a game. For instance, games rated E have been deemed suitable for everyone while games rated M are considered mature and meant for people aged 17 and up. Video game ratings also include content descriptors, including terms like "language," "mature humor" and "violence." Familiarize yourself with video game ratings to decide what's okay for your child and what isn't.

Purchase Age-Appropriate Games

There are video games for children of all ages. Ratings can help clue you in to whether or not a game is age-appropriate for your kid, but do a little extra research to make absolutely sure. Online reviews are quite handy for this. Keep your child's maturity level and physical and cognitive needs in mind while making this decision. While you're at it, consider the kind of mental engagement that's needed to play and enjoy a game before buying or renting it for your child.

Limit Your Child's Exposure to Video Games


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The easiest way to limit a kid's exposure to video games is by not allowing them to keep a console in their bedroom. Rather, have your child play in a common area of the home. Impose limits on how often and for how long your child can play video games. Be fair but firm about it, and make sure your child knows the ground rules. If they are broken, remove your child's game-playing privileges for a week or so.

Set Priorities

Even after establishing a schedule for when your child can play video games, make it clear that their responsibilities always come first. As such, do not allow your child to play until they have finished their homework and/or household chores. If your child's grades start to slip, reduce the amount of time they're allowed to play until they get back in the swing of things.

Promote Other Learning Opportunities

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Ward off video game addiction by actively promoting other forms of learning and entertainment. Foster a love of reading by taking your child to the library or book store once a week. Encourage playing and physical activity by signing your child up for sports or by simply telling them to go outside to play with friends. Keep your child socially active by setting up play dates, and don't allow them to just play video games the whole time.

Discuss Games with Your Child

Kids love video games, so it's easy to get them to talk about them. Use those discussions as opportunities to point out why some games are not appropriate for your child. Ask your child how they feel while playing and about the things they observe. Be on the lookout for signs that your child is withdrawing due to excessive video game play.

Share Information with Other Parents

If your child expresses interest in a certain game, ask other parents if they are familiar with it and what they think about it. Similarly, you can ask other parents for video game recommendations to more easily identify age-appropriate games your child will enjoy.

Play Video Games as a Family

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Finally, be more involved in your child's video game consumption by playing yourself. 89 percent of parents are more involved in their kids' video game playing than ever, so you will be in good company. Playing video games yourself is the best way to be familiar with what's out there, and it has the added bonuses of allowing you to monitor your child's consumption while spending some quality time together.

Help Kids Enjoy the Best Benefits of Video Games by Staying Involved

By putting the preceding tips to work, you can encourage the many positive aspects of video games and discourage their less-positive ones. In today's world, video games can't realistically be all-or-nothing propositions. If you don't allow your child to play, they will miss out on many great advantages. If you let them play too much or fail to monitor their consumption, they could fall into less-than-optimal behaviors. It's a balancing act, to be sure, but being an active, involved parent will make the work a lot less difficult.