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Fresh Kids: How Do Video Games Impact Kids' Well-Being and Development?

For decades now, video games and kids have gone together like bacon and eggs. When I was growing up, it was Sonic the Hedgehog and Hockey Pong; now it’s Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Courtesy of advanced technology, video games are arguably more popular than ever among children. The graphics are more lifelike, the games more sophisticated, the level of engagement more intense.

Anyone with kids can likely relate. I have an 11-year-old son who loves to play video games, either on his own or with friends. Like many parents, I have questions and concerns. The biggest one: How much time should he be allowed to spend playing video games?

Several researchers have tried to understand the effects of video games on children's development. Some of the games can be entertaining and relaxing, and others can be challenging and beneficial for learning and brain development. As with most things, video games have their pros and cons.

Positive Effects:

  1. Working together as a team. Many games involve players from across the country and around the world, encouraging children to play with others.
  2. Better decision making skills. Video games can help your child maintain a good level of accuracy by learning to calculate all the dependent parameters needed to make the right decision quickly. It’s a useful skill and explains why soldiers and doctors are advised to play video games to sharpen their decision making.
  3. Hand and eye coordination. Good hand and eye coordination is essential in many daily life activities and in nearly all sports activities.
  4. Better cognitive functioning. When a certain skill is repeated multiple times, the brain starts developing a structure and creates new neural pathways and transmitters to optimize functioning. In times when intense concentration is applied, the brain molds itself to solve problems faster — a skill that can translate to real-life situations.

Negative Effects:
  1. Health issues. Constantly sitting in one place and playing video games for long periods of time can increase the chances of obesity, weaken muscles and joints, make hands and fingers numb, and negatively impact eyesight.
  2. Academic issues. Let’s face it: Playing video games is usually more fun than doing homework. Kids can see their grades tumble, stunting their academic progress.
  3. Questionable content. Many popular video games are extremely violent and include profanity and sexual overtones.
  4. Social disconnection. Even though multi-player games exist, kids may opt to play on their own or only interact digitally. Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety and stress.
  5. Aggressive/impatient behavior. The violent nature of many video games and the instant gratification they provide may cause children to become impatient and aggressive in their behavior. When things fail to go as planned or any restrictions are applied to kids, they may lash out.

The World Health Organization has even added "gaming disorders" to its 2018 medical reference book. It’s understandable: Video games are highly addictive. Following are some signs that your child’s video-game playing may be more than a hobby.

  • Denial: The child is defensive and denies he or she is playing video games too often.
  • Frequent money requests
  • Disinterest in other aspects of life
  • Pushing time boundaries: Children addicted to video games have trouble stopping when they said they would stop.
  • Unable to process failure: Children exhibit aggressive behavior when losing a game and become unreasonably angry.
  • Finding hiding places: Kids addicted to video games may attempt to play in secret.
  • Being constantly preoccupied: When away from video games, your child may appear distant and distracted.
So how can parents help children enjoy video games properly and avoid problems?
  • Don't allow your kids to play video games when they are in preschool; this will only make addiction more likely when they are older.
  • Before buying a game or letting your child play, check the rating, the age limit, and any content warnings provided.
  • Try playing the game yourself so that you fully understand it. This will also get you closer to your child, and he/she will be more open to discussing various aspects of the game.
  • Keep fixed and restricted times for playing games. One hour per day is the recommendation.
  • Keep track of any online interactions your kids may be having with strangers and ensure that they do not reveal any personal details to anyone.
  • Make sure the gaming area is in public view and that you can easily spot the screen from afar.
  • Allow your kids to play video games only after they have completed their homework or other tasks.
  • Make other physical activities or outdoor sports part of your child's life as well.
  • Allow for more unstructured time with friends; it will help them develop self-regulation skills and inspire creativity.
Finding the right balance can be tricky, but it’s best for you and your children.

Resources and reference: WebMD