Parents often lament the obsession their children have with video games. They rue wasted time, an avoidance of other social interactions, a life on the couch, an inability to participate in other activities and a general sulkiness when told to tear themselves away.
Firstly, I am not and never will advocate for a child to play video games non stop at the expense of their wellbeing. That means they should not be playing games so much that they don’t get any homework done, or that they skip meals or sleep or stop hanging out with friends or doing activities they always did. I am also not advocating for young children to play inappropriate and violent games that are sending all sorts of crazy messages about violence, gender roles, breaking the law etc. If we stick to some boundaries and create a culture of balanced play within our family lives, we can help to create good habits that become good behaviours that in turn, our children will learn to regulate themselves.
There are many, many video games out there however, that are actually great for your child as well as being something they simply enjoy doing. If your child loves playing games, then instead of spending all your energy worrying about how you can stop them from playing, remember that there are some really good reasons why you should continue to let your child play.
Video games can be a great way for kids to relate to each other and have a common ground. One only needs to listen to the conversations of a group of kids involved in an online game to get a sense of the common enthusiasm. Just as a group of kids who belong to a sporting team or a dancing troupe feel part of a group and enjoy a common interest, video games can also provide this sense of community for our children as well.
There has been a significant increase in research in this area and the findings of researchers such as Daphne Bavelier and Jane McGonical to name a couple, dismiss the notion of gaming as being mindless and time wasting, but rather espouse the benefits of gaming to actually ignite positive change to many social, emotional, physical and cognitive ailments.
Some of the research has found that playing games:
- Gives kids a sense of achievement: going through different levels, accomplishing tasks, gaining access to new worlds or environments and creating and making things, allows them to feel the excitement and satisfaction of achievement. For children who may struggle to attain a certain level of success in other more ‘popular’ arenas, the positive benefits of conquering a game or level can never be under estimated to endorse confidence and a positive sense of self.
- Coordination and tracking skills: The physical benefits of games playing also refers to improvements in spatial awareness, hand eye coordination and attention to detail, not to mention some physical benefits of movement and exercise games such as Wii. Higher spatial resolution in visual processing has also been seen to be transferable to spatial tasks outside the game. Many careers now use gaming as part of their training to simulate situations and build on these skills.
- Sense of belonging: For many children, the video games give them a real sense of belonging that they may not get to experience in other areas of their lives. Not all kids get to feel the sense of community from their peers, they may not enjoy sports and being part of a team, they may not have any other avenue of feeling connected. Many who have become involved in the world of gaming speak of the sense of being part of a community. With over 70% of game playing involving collaboration or competition this also emphasises the interactive nature of video games as opposed to the more passive nature of other screen time activities. Collaborative games can also require leadership and decision making skills as we can see in group games such as Minecraft. Even those that watch other players without even playing, feel a sense of being part of something. As long as the connections remain positive, then this can only be a good thing.
- Stress release: When kids get home from school sometimes they need time to ‘switch off’. Having to participate, be’on’ and be present and interacting with others all day can be emotionally taxing for many kids. Often that is the reason we don’t get a lot of conversation out of them when they first walk in the door. They need time to unwind. Video games have been reported to have huge benefits to those needing to simply ‘veg out’ for a while and do their own thing without the demands of others. It an also be a safe environment to manage negative emotions. Once again as long as these are not replacing all other avenues of downtime and relaxation, then gaming can be one way to negate the stresses of everyday life.
- Teaches Persistence and to think outside the box: Persistence and overcoming obstacles is one of the most valuable skills we can teach our kids.Many video games require you to experiment with different ways to do things. They require you to change tactics, be creative in your thinking and strategy and come up with new ways to solve problems. I can think of numerous careers where these skills are highly beneficial and certainly persistence and an ability to change and adapt are the greatest assets to a resilient mindset.
Once again I stress that video game behaviour needs to be played with some conditions. There needs to be a sense of control over how long they play, the types of games they play and the balance with other areas of their lives needs to be monitored. But there is no denying the research. It seems we should continue to look at the very best ways we can use video games to not only have fun with and enjoy, but to actually look at using video games as a tool for implementing positive changes to our lives and to those of our kids.
What role do video games play in your family? What are some of the games you or your kids play? What has been your attitude to video game playing in your household?