A report from a European parliament committee states that playing video games has a “broadly beneficial effect” on children’s mental development.
According to this study,
Games can help instill facts in children and encourage the use of important skills such as creativity, cooperation and strategic reflection.
(Right, because when I think of ways to encourage creativity and cooperation, I think video games. Doesn’t everybody?)
The study also suggests that games should have a “red button” which parents could push to turn off a screen or disable game play, as “the possibility of harmful effects on the minds of children cannot be ruled out”.
Honestly, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
While it can be argued that video games may aid in the development of a very specific skill set, I think the negatives here clearly outweigh the positive:
97% of children play video games, and they play often. Half of those surveyed had played within the last 24 hours.
Children aged 8-12 play video games for an average of 13 hours a week.
An abundance of screen time means less time spent outdoors. A 2008 study by the Outdoor Foundation reported an 11% decrease in outdoor activity among 6-17 year olds in one year.
Lack of outdoor time translates into lack of exercise. The Centers for Disease Conrol has found that the number of obese children has tripled over three decades; 15% are considered obese, while 30% are overweight. Childhood weight issues increase the risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, depression, and other health problems.
Time engaged by a screen takes away from time for free, unstructured play, which develops language and social skills, creative thinking, and problem-solving, as well as reducing stress.
So why release a study that praises video game time?
I hate to sound callous, but could it be because in spite of the economy, video games sales went up in the UK in 2008? Online gaming sites ( 107 of which are targeted to children under seven) also saw growth during the economic downturn.
What our kids need is more encouragement to turn off the video games and the computer screens.
What my kids (and I) definitely did not need was evidence rationalizing that video game time is good for them.
Photo Credit: Seth W. under Creative Commons
Ugh. I can’t believe how much these kids were gaming!
We have an XBox in the house. It’s there for daddy, or occasionally for a round of racing games with my 13-year-old stepdaughter. But 13 hours a week?!
It’s like how the AAP had to recommend that kids “only” watch two hours of TV per day. My little guy is not going to school right now, and he’s lucky if he gets two hours a week. (Must have good listening ears, kind words, and no tantrums to get a half-hour movie treat. That’s hard for a 3-year-old! So obviously he doesn’t get those too often.) But my question was: two hours per day? After school and homework, what do you do, plop them in front of the TV? I can’t imagine how kids fit all the TV watching in!
Our solution? We don’t have TV. Yes, we have A television (3, actually), but they are only plugged in. We don’t hook the cable for even basic channels. That way, we choose together what to watch on DVD or video.
But yeah, it never ceases to amaze me. Why are my kids obese? Couldn’t possibly be because they haven’t seen the light of day in weeks!
Many people have tried to convince me that playing video games encourages creativity, but I’ve never really understood it. How do you do anything creative in the limited rules of the game’s world? Plus, as you pointed out, free, unstructured play probably does a much better job of fostering creativity and cooperation than playing video games!
Steve Burke says
A better way is to break down the barriers to getting kids outdoors and to communicate with kids in their modern language of technology. The current discussion about nature deficit disorder misses the point about kids today. Besides the Internet there is a lot of great new technology out there including outdoor products that makes it easier, safer and a lot more interesting to be outside. Kids love technical stuff. Should it really be off limits to bring an iPod or to play your Gameboy DS with your dad (or mom) in the tent at night? How about the new Jetboil stove that is super light, easy to use and can cook a meal for four in 15 minutes or less so that you can get on to exploring before dark with your Fozzils Flatware aquarium while being connected to your parents with the your Motorola walkie talkies. All kids today were born after the advent of the Internet and most are simply wired differently than their parents. In fact technology is what they are interested in even more than “the outdoors”. One place looking at this point is the new web site http://www.kidsoutdoorsonline.com. There they talk “online” about What they did, Where they did it and How they did it (WWH) outdoors. Over time it will help break down the primary barriers to getting kids outdoors: lack of knowledge and lack of interest. – email@example.com
Shaping Youth says
Totally agree with Steve here. In fact, I’m about to do an ECP story on the online to offline interaction/bridge with Elf Island.com for Eco Child’s Play, as they’re doing a Good Quest re: Shark Preservation right now that empowers a ‘by kids for kids’ way to make a difference in the world and help the environment. Plus, Shaping Youth is looking to partner with them on a virtual nutrition approach to get fresh produce in the hands of kids OFFline…
Again, I think it’s healthy to view media as simply a ‘distribution channel’ to empower kids in new ways to get kids outdoors and do good things rather than take a polarized ‘either/or’ approach. As you know, I’ve written about this extensively in our EcoKids category on Shaping Youth…about ‘gaming for good, gaming for health, etc.’ Even our NCLI partnership consortium’s ‘Get ‘em outside’ video and online media campaign took place leveraging the internet…so we mustn’t shut off to new outreach methods with the same end goal. It’s all about balance and using the power of media for positive change, imho. (that’s our tagline at Shaping Youth, so I’m biased)
Whether it’s the ‘teens turning green’ crew I’m about to write about here on ECP or any other innovation for education pedagogy, I say “any way we can get there” ya know? –Amy Jussel
I believe that some video games have great educational benefit and they definitely help with eye hand coordination. However, how can the children that spend hours a day playing video games stay interested while in school? I believe the immediate gratification they get from playing video games makes it difficult to stay engaged in school. I think more children are falling asleep in classrooms because they are bored with lectures and wanting to get home to the sound, graphics and thrill of their games. Parents should be aware and limit time spent on the computer. Encourage their children to read a good book instead. :o)
I think the big risk here is to lump all “video games” together. There are certainly some that provide effective challenges for the mind and are truly stimulating, for a certain amount of time at least. “Sandbox” type games are good for this, like any Will Wright game (i.e. Spore). As long as the kid is really engaged and motivated, there’s probably a lot of learning going on. This is totally fine every once in a while, even in binges when they get a new game.
The real danger is having video games becoming a de facto source of entertainment. If you look back at your own childhood, you’ll probably realize that some of the coolest stuff you did came out of being bored out of your skull.
As for the study, I would certainly believe that “strategic thinking” and cooperation (in the case of multiplayer games) are improved by some video game playing. It’s important to realize that video games merely present a challenge to be overcome. The fact that they are so good at providing feedback consistent with effort is what makes them so entertaining. There’s loads of positive and negative reinforcement. Depending on how this is used, the effects can be both good and bad.
Secret admirer says
Heh heh. excelent.
its true.. games play vital role in child’s mental development
Eric Valenzuela says
I play easily three hours a day of video games – often more, on a slow Sunday.
A few weeks ago, some friends called me up, and invited me to hit Ocean Beach with them. It was, in a word, incredible.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to countries all over the world, and seen breathtaking sights to rival the best of them, but there was something different about discovering that it was a five minute bus ride away. If kids would actually get out of the house, they could find places that make their video game worlds (however engrossing) seem downright barren.
Ultimately, however, no one plays a game for the landscape; you play them for story and action – something which isn’t necessarily sitting out your front door, in quite the same way.
Kids have a “growth gap” now which didn’t quite exist so starkly before; by the time kids used to get their first job, they were still using their imagination to play “cowboy and indians” with their friends. Now, kids have, for the most part, a gap from when they stop using imagination for recreation, and when they begin doing something productive.
That gap is, for the most part, called “High School”.
I don’t think anyone here would contest my saying that modern US high schools aren’t the kind of “social interaction” that fosters well-balanced, socially “healthy” kids. There’s too much drama, clique culture, and inappropriate innuendos to be somewhere a kid “grows”, in anything but height. There are, of course, plenty of alternatives to public schooling, but many aren’t feasible for the majority of parents.
I don’t think video games are necessarily any different from a Murakami or Tolkien novel, provided they’re the right games, but I certainly know that the majority of games kids are playing are better compared to Goosebumps or Animorphs.
Just as you wouldn’t want your kid spending all his time reading Goosebumps, don’t let him waste his time on games like Grand Theft Auto or some shooting game.
It’s harder for parents to police video games for content and quality, because they’re unfamiliar with them, but a Google Images search should tell you if the game your kid is playing is something you wouldn’t want him reading.
In my opinion as a “gamer”, kids shouldn’t be playing them in any real amount until high school at least, and even then only as much as they do healthy outdoor activity.
Hello everyone. ^_^
I just read all of your comments, I think some of them are wrong some of them are right some of them are in the middle. I like how Steve Burke told things, and Aaron, plus Eric’s. I don’t like Stephine’s point of view at all, she should be more open minded…… Sorry…. For I as a pre teen, and used to be addicted to videogames, I play them sometimes but I spend my time on the internet more. I read your comments, for most of you all say that videogames are just all bad just because you feel that they ignore you and don’t do anything healthy about it and everyone agrees on not letting your children playing videogames as much.
First of all, I have a problem with going outdoors, especially recess which I hate because you are exposed to other people dropping in your conversation and passing by and teasing you. And there is nothing to do outside, I mean there isn’t anything to do, you can just expect them to think of something but what if there isn’t really anything? So I spend my time on the my DSI and my wii. It actually cheers me up more if I am playing videogames especially a easy part. My hand eye coordination is pretty good, I don’t really know how that got there but my mom’s friend said it’s because I play videogames a lot. I pretty much stopped playing videogames because nothing new is out, so I write fantasy and fanfiction instead. I am not person who likes to go outdoors at all, as said above, I am also scared of parasites so I am pretty careful about what comes into my mouth. I feel that videogames are good for you, it has it’s goods and bads, it’s entertaining, but itches my eyes as for the DSI.