Examining The Impact Of Video Games On Children

The impact of video games on children has been questioned since their inception in the early 1970s. Parents and caregivers have long been concerned about the prevalence, addictive qualities and messages behind the flashing screens and digitised figures.

As time has gone on, video games have greatly matured in terms of effects and content. The simple childhood games of yesteryear have given way to endless, compelling worlds of fantasy wherein children can become so immersed that they lose touch with reality. There are a plethora of possible impacts of video games on children, both positive and negative, that must be acknowledged in order to address parental concerns about the popular entertainment of choice by children and teens.

Parental concerns about video games can include:

  • Whether or not children are playing video games appropriate for their age level [7]
  • Impacts on physical health and obesity in children [5]
  • Concerns to do with the addictive qualities of video games [6]
  • Concerns to do with privacy and child safety, particularly when playing online games [7]
  • A possible correlation between playing video games and the prevalence of violence, aggression and misbehaviour in today’s children (Please note – approximately 3% of children have been found to engage in video game culture in an excessive or problematic way [2]

It is the responsibility of parents and caregivers to ensure that they are appropriately informed concerning the key elements of video games. Not all games are created equal, so the onus must lay with the adults to ensure children are not exposed to concepts and content beyond their emotional capacity and that healthy gaming habits are put in place.

A Brave New World – Kids And Video Games

Games have fast become a core part of our culture and take on a variety of different forms for different context and purpose.

  • Educational games (like Reading Eggs) are often played in schools and then extended for use on devices in the home
  • Social games (like Words With Friends and Scrabble) are sometimes played via social media applications and connect users
  • Online games (like Minecraft and World of Warcraft) are played on servers with friends and strangers from all over the world

Our children are quickly growing up in this gaming culture and gamification of learning is firmly entrenched in the curriculum. However, there are some problematic elements of video game culture that must be addressed in any examination of the impacts of video games on children.  It is important to view both sides of the argument.

Positive Effects of Video Games on Children

Consider the wide number of potential positive impacts of video games on children as they have a range of positive impacts in terms of socialisation, education and the development of creativity.

  • The medium has a wide range of benefits for children across the developmental, emotional, social and educational spectrums [2]. Children who consistently struggle with traditional learning activities may find some success in the use of games of learning. Teachers have space within their curriculum (particularly in the younger years) to adapt learning to suit the styles and interests of learners with varied needs. This has the ability to create a more inclusive learning environment.
  • Playing certain types of video games (particularly those that involve physical and team components) may serve to improve the learning, health and social skills of a child [1].
  • Complex cognitive skills like spatial navigation, reasoning, memory processing and perception may be strengthened by certain video games [1] in addition to an improvement in problem-solving skills [1].
  • Video games may enhance creativity and imagination [1]. It can help them to set, work on and achieve their goals and make learning more fun and engaging [3].
  • Quick, easy to complete video games can help children to relax and decrease their levels of anxiety. Losing in video games and having to adjust strategies and try again can help improve their levels of resilience [10].

An examination of the potential positive impacts of playing video games allows parents to gain perspective when it comes to their children’s game playing. However, there are a number of potential negative effects that must also be taken into consideration.

Negative Effects of Video Games on Children

Consider the similar number of potential negative impacts of video games on children. Negative effects of video games can take on a variety of forms and severity.

  • Some research suggests that some video games may see negative traits like addiction, depression and aggression develop in players – particularly games that contain violence [1].
  • Obsessive, unregulated gameplay can cause stress, lead to poor school performance and concentration levels, increase sleep problems and may lead to mental health issues [2].
  • Multiplayer games played on an open server (like Roblox) can create a breeding ground for social problems like bullying [2] and child grooming [8]. If children are playing games on servers it is up to parents to ensure their play is monitored and constantly checked on. There is also the possibility to set up ‘closed’ servers where children can play with friends and family.
  • There is untold potential for children to be exposed to inappropriate content in some video games, particularly when they are playing without their parents’ full knowledge or supervision [7].

A Social Issue – Violence In Video Games

Much of the criticism in recent years over the content in video games comes as a result of violence. High profile video games, like the Grand Theft Auto series, have been at the centre of storms of controversy for their violent content that is often sexual in nature. Because of the ‘game’ tag, it seems that many parents do not adhere closely to the age recommendations on video games and children have inadvertently been exposed to excessive amounts of inappropriately violent content.

Violence in video games is not appropriate for young children as they are not mature enough to be able to link the violence to the themes or context behind it [2]. Whereas an adult might view shooting violence in a game as part of the protagonist’s quest, a child may only see the shooting and the death.

Experts are divided when it comes to the question as to whether there is causality between video games played by older children and violent tendencies. Some have long claimed a link between online violence and real-life violence along with a lack of empathy and an increase in boredom while others believe that games can increase the spirit of competition and allow children to let off steam and therefore reduce their aggression levels [2].

Putting Parameters On Play – What Kind Of Games and For How Long?

Establishing a family dynamic where video games can be played in a healthy, productive way can be challenging. Here are some guidelines on how to establish this environment in your home.

  • It is imperative that parents follow age ratings and standards for video gameplay like they (should) do for the viewing of films and television shows[4]. These guidelines have been carefully considered and put in place for good reason and should not be dismissed or ignored.
  • Look for games that encourage creativity and imagination – LittleBigPlanet and Lego Worlds [4] are a good choice for younger primary school children that spark ideas and engagement instead of passive use.
  • Work with your children to research and come up with a list of age-appropriate games that fall within their interest areas. You may want to break this list into smaller quadrants (for example, 3-8 years, 8-12 years) [2] to compensate for multiple children or younger cousins or close friends.
  • Ensure that there is a balance between time spent playing video games and on other tasks. Environmental, outdoor, experimental, imaginative and quiet play should all factor into your children’s lives outside of school hours [4].
  • Implement a time-limit system that is understood and monitored. Establish a time period before your child begins to play and update them regularly with how much time they have left. This is easier than suddenly breaking them away from the game and will potentially cut down on arguments or tantrums [4].
  • Discuss with your child your expectations regarding video games played at other places. It is possible that your child will be exposed to inappropriate video games at a friend’s house so you should have a conversation before that happens to establish ground rules. It’s important to communicate your parenting boundaries with other parents just as you would any other aspect of your child’s care – an open, honest conversation with other parents can go a long way in maintaining your video game standards [4].
  • Establish set amounts of screen time and gaming time that you feel are appropriate and developmentally sound. One hour per weekday and two hours per weekend day might be a solid starting point that could be open to negotiation. It is vital to seek the solution that best fits your family and leaves room for social, academic and sporting pursuits.
  • Educational games, like Reading Eggs and MathSeeds, are now widely used in Australian primary schools. When looking for educational games for your own children, look for games that promote memory, problem-solving, comprehension, vocabulary and that are connected to curriculum [2].

Take-Home Advice For Parents And Families

Video games are here to stay. It’s best that you make informed, well-considered decisions [4] proactively in moments of calm rather than making reactive decisions once a problem arises. As video games become more prevalent in the classroom and take their place within the curriculum [1], we must ensure we devote regular time to having age-appropriate conversations about video games with our children.

Part of your discussion should centre around video game literacy. Ask your children to consider concepts of gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity and culture and how they’re represented in their video games of choice [2]. The more aware children are of the messages that they’re being sold, the better equipped they will be to think for themselves and question the world around them. Sit with your children while they play and actually play with them [6] to find out what it is that interests them and what, if anything, you need to discuss or work on to counter any problematic messages.

Violence in video games can be particularly problematic and is an issue that needs to be at the centre of conversations. This is an excellent teachable moment to work with your children on concepts like managing emotions, respecting differences and resolving conflict [2] in non-violent ways.

Privacy and personal safety also need to be discussed [5] as a matter of urgency when children are playing online. You can use parental controls, set strong passwords (and regularly change them) and ensure personal information cannot be seen. Regularly check your child’s online gaming accounts and consider closed servers as an option.

Finally, consider the following ground rules for your child:

  1. Length of time they will play for
  2. Where they will play (a common area is preferable)
  3. Game ratings (you can refer to these guidelines)
  4. Time of day they will play  (it’s best to avoid screen activities late at night as the blue light given off by screens can delay the release of melatonin)
  5. How video games will be balanced with other activities and commitments
  6. Always check video game reviews to ensure the game is age-appropriate for your child. Common Sense Media has a great game review section which can be accessed here.

References

  1. Video Games Help Boost Social, Memory and Cognitive Skills
  2. Raising Children – Video Games, Online Games and Apps: Children and Teenagers
  3. What Are The Benefits Of Playing Online Games For Children?
  4. Children and Video Games – A Parent’s Guide
  5. Healthy Video Gaming For Children And Teenagers
  6. Online Games – Helping Children Play Safe
  7. Kids And Video Games: Health And Safety Issues
  8. Online Gaming: Helping Children To Play Safe

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