When it comes to kids and video games, the debate to this point has largely centered around the direct effects kids experience from playing video games. For example, do kids who regularly play violent video games develop a more aggressive personality as a result? While questions like this are important, there may be a new and developing angle we should also examine. Specifically, regardless of type of video games kids play, what are the real-life events they are not experiencing as a direct result of hours and hours of playing video games? When kids play video games, often in isolation, they are not interacting with the world around them, nor are they experiencing real human connection with others. Is there a significant human development cost to playing video games at the expense of interacting with people in the real world?
The indirect effects of video games
Rarely in life can we proficiently do two completely different things at the same time. If you accept that statement to be true, then apply that to kids who play video games and think about all the things they are not able to do as a result of directing endless amounts of time to gaming. One immediate observation is the decrease in amount of time previously given to doing real things, like interacting out with friends, attending events, resolving conflicts, overcoming stress, and sharing life moments together. When real interactions with friends go by the wayside, there is an increased risk for mental health issues relating to confidence, self-esteem, problem-solving, and many more invaluable life skills. When these skills are not developed, kids can experience depression, social anxiety, and an unrealistic view of the world around them.
To be clear, I am not asserting that all video games are “bad,” but instead exploring the indirect impact video games are having on many kids today, and how those lost life lessons and missed opportunities might play out into adulthood. Will this generation be less able to communicate, problem-solve, foster creativity, manage stress, and learn responsible decision-making when most of their days are tethered to a video game rather than interacting with real human beings?
The ease of gaming
Video games have come a long way over the years, greatly improving from the early days of Atari Pong in the 1970’s. In addition to much better graphics and game-play, perhaps the biggest change leading to so many kids withdrawing from society by means of video games has to do with how omnipresent video games are today. Kids today can play video games anywhere and anytime, including on their computers, phones, tablets, and televisions. Video gaming has advanced from keeping kids tethered to a console, to being able to access an entire world community via the internet. Whenever a kid has a few extra minutes today he or she can just open a device and immediately withdraw from the real world into a video game, and the dopamine spike often experienced from gaming keeps kids playing — sometimes for hours and hours on end. While all of these advances witnessed in the video game world are exciting, they do appear to come at a cost of increasingly more kids withdrawing from human companionship, and those missed experiences may come at a significant human development costs as kids mature into adults.
Yes, it is still important to pay attention to the types of video games your kids play to ensure they are healthy and appropriate for the their age. Today, however, the type of game a kid plays may be secondary to the sheer amount of time a kid plays video games — and often in isolation. What impact does gaming have on human development when it takes away from time that would have been spent hanging out in real life with real friends? Are kids missing critical developmental periods where they would have learned how to communicate and interact with others, develop their self-esteem, learn how to manage stress, and develop academic and career skills for future life success? The kids gaming today will grow into adults soon, but questions remain centering around their readiness and preparation for the real world beyond video gaming.