Video games tend to get a bad rap from media, parents and society as a whole as the world laments the impact they’ve had on a nostalgic world of books, board games and outside play. Yes, they can while away many hours from a child’s day, promote violent play and misogynistic themes and prevent children from getting the exercise and sleep they need. However, gaming is good for kids too.
They are a valid form of entertainment, storytelling, pastime, social platform and sometimes even a stress reliever that can be a perfectly healthy addition to our children’s lives. Rather than cower in a world of anxiety and fear, constantly clicking on the alarmist headlines, let’s instead take the reins and choose to work with our kids and the technology to ensure it can be a positive addition to their lives.
Why gaming is good for kids
I first need to make it clear that I would never advocate for a child to play video games non-stop at the expense of their wellbeing. It goes without saying that 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 children to play inappropriate and violent games that are sending all sorts of crazy messages about violence, gender roles, breaking the law, etc.
There are; however, many, many video games out there that are actually great for your child as well as being something they simply enjoy doing. And there has been a significant increase in research into why gaming is good for kids. The findings of researchers such as Daphne Bavelier and Jane McGonigal dismiss the notion of gaming as being mindless and time-wasting, but rather espouse the benefits of gaming to actually ignite positive change to social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.If your child loves playing games, 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 them play. Here are some of the reasons why gaming is good for kids.
1. Gaming provides 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 underestimated for its ability to boost confidence and create a positive sense of self.
2. Gaming increases coordination and tracking skills
The physical benefits of game playing also refer to improvements in spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination and attention to detail. Many careers now use gaming as part of their training to simulate situations and build on these skills.
3. Games provides a sense of belonging
For many children, video games give them a sense of belonging 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. 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.
More good advice: 5 common screen time issues and realistic ways to handle them
4. Gaming is good for stress release
When kids get home from school sometimes they need time to ‘switch off’. Having to participate, to be ‘on’, be present and interacting with others all day can be emotionally taxing on many kids. Video games have been reported to have huge benefits for those needing to simply ‘chill out’ for a while and do their own thing without the demands of others.
5. Gaming develops persistence and resilience
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.
6. Gaming is good for cognitive thinking
Gaming is not always about shooting people, or racing cars. And even in these games as well as the many other types of games kids play, there is some pretty high order thinking that is required to conquer challenges, solve puzzles and advance to other levels.
7. Gaming is good for teamwork and collaboration
Many games require players to play in pairs, teams and collaborate with others for the greatest outcome. Negotiating what tools to use, trusting others to have your back in battle and deciding on the best course of action as a team can all be great ways to learn those important skills of working with others, compromise and trust that may well transfer to the work they do both at school and beyond.
How to spot a problem
It’s not all good news, of course. The creators of games know what appeals to our brain and our reward systems and thus they come complete with hooks and never-ending loop systems that make it very difficult for us to put them down.
With the lure of getting to one more level, making one more kill, finding one more bag of loot, crushing one more piece of candy, having one more chance to be the last man standing, the brain of a young person can find it difficult to naturally tell themselves when they have had enough. So we do need to help them with that.
That means we can have some boundaries around the times they play, particularly if they are having trouble regulating that for themselves. And we must look out for the red flags that tell us our children are struggling to control their time spent.
We want to avoid them heading down the slippery slope to obsessive behaviours that get harder to manage the older they get, and the more entrenched those behaviours become.
Red flags may be:
- having a tantrum or becoming aggressive when they are told to come off the games
- skipping meals or losing sleep because of game playing
- no longer participating in activities they once enjoyed
- slipping in school grades or not wanting to attend school.
This should help: How to set boundaries on Fortnite and other video games
The problem, of course, is that all of the above can also be seen as normal tween and teen behaviours. But if we think that our child’s game playing is impacting other areas of their life in an increasingly negative way, then it may be time to step in and make some changes. Discuss together those concerns and how you can come up with a plan to help them remain in control and avoid
slipping into those obsessive behaviours.
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Martine Oglethorpe is a speaker, author, educator and Trusted eSafety Provider with the Office of the eSafety Commission. She has a background in secondary education, a Masters in Counselling and most importantly, is a mother to five boys. Through her personal and professional work with families she recognises the important role technology plays in the social and emotional wellbeing of young people. Her new book The Modern Parent: Raising a great kid in the digital world is out now.
Have you found that gaming is good for kids, or is it more of a struggle at your place?