Since the beginning of video games critics have argued that they are no good for kids, with the claims usually being that the games are too violent and tend to promote the worst in human behavior. Today’s games are amazingly realistic (far more than just a few years ago), providing critics with even more ammunition as it relates to the negative effects playing video games has on kids. While there is certainly more blood, gore, and adult themes in video games today, are these games a detriment to developing kids? There seems to be a divide with respect to this question; critics say yes, while supporters of video games minimize the impact violence has on kids and respond by saying the video game players, including kids, clearly understand the boundaries between what’s real versus what is involved in video games. Social scientists also study video games, but to date there doesn’t appear to be any consistent findings illustrating a cause-effect relationship between playing video games and committing acts of violence (though there may be correlations). Perhaps, however, there is another way of looking at this question — rather than isolating the variables video games and violence, we might want to dig deeper into what changes, if any, are regularly witnessed when studying kids who play video games?
Is heavy gaming toxic for kids?
Widening this discussion, the question becomes what are the effects video games have on kids? Millions of kids today alone will play games like Minecraft or Fortnite, but are these good ways to spend time or harmful to human development? On the positive side you might argue that video game playing, at minimum, requires good hand-eye coordination, cognitive processing (especially with games that involve figuring out tasks), and teamwork (when playing multi-player games). You might also say that video games sometimes provide a cathartic stress relief, in addition to simply being fun.
But what about the other side of the debate — what are the negative things that happen with excessive video game playing? At my office this has become a fairly common question, and I have noticed many of the same descriptors being used by parents about the effects video games have on their kids, including the following:
- Video games quickly become the “go-to” for every free block of time. Most parents I meet don’t mind that their kids play video games during some of their free time, it’s when video games become the thing kids do exclusively that it becomes an issue.
- Getting off the games is often met with great resistance. The withdrawal some kids have when taken off video games can be quite noticeable, especially when kids respond with anger and resentment.
- There is an overall change in personality noticed during playing time periods. When kids play video games for hours a day some parents have reported to me that their personality changes, and not for the better. In some cases kids lose interest in learning new things or engaging in new activities, or when they are forced off the video game system they passively go through the motions until they are permitted to play again.
Ideas to help
For parents, a healthy way to approach video games might be to take a timeout and re-evaluate your family situation using the following tips:
- Examine the types of games your child wants to play, do your reviews, and determine if they are age-appropriate. Use your intuition and common sense here — if something doesn’t feel right (i.e. the adult themes and/or language), consider re-directing to other more suitable games. Yes, you will get push-back, but as a parent these decisions are ultimately left to you and your discretion.
- Define specific blocks of time where kids are permitted to play, with clear end points. Helping your child learn time management is an important life skill, and kids can begin to learn the importance of adhering to a schedule with their video game usage.
- Unplug gaming systems when kids break rules about playing, develop changes in their personality linked to playing video games, or regularly struggle to find things to do without video games. Again, prepare for disagreement here, but anchor your decision to the importance of teaching kids responsibility and engaging in other life interests beyond camping out in front of screens all day.
Video games are here to stay, and in the years ahead they are only going to become even more real and lifelike. We also can’t blame kids for liking to play video games, as they can be very exciting, and some games promote team-building with friends. At the same time, it’s important for parents to be active in their monitoring of the ways in which kids use video games, and occasionally unplug game systems when hitting reset makes sense.