The answer to the question, do video games affect children, can be answered with a resounding YES! But despite what the media might have you believe, not all the effects are negative.
As video gaming continues its popularity, the question of how positively or negatively video games affect children is hotly debated.
From the scientific research conducted on video gameplay, it seems there are various factors that determine this. Here, we’re going to delve into some of that research and look at the positive and negative effects of video games on children.
My Motivation For This Post
If this isn’t your first visit to my blog, you’ll probably know that I am a video game affine person myself. I enjoy spending parts of my spare time with video games. Since I also LOVE spending time with my son, we sometimes play together, and we started doing so very early on.
Some may consider that bad practice. My take is that, as long as I do it in a reasonable and responsible way, it won’t do any harm… We limit our gaming time to just a few sessions a week and usually set a timer to make sure that we stay accountable to the time limits we have set in advance.
But, of course, as a responsible dad, I am constantly thinking about the implications that my actions and decisions could potentially have on my son’s live. Hence, I tried to step back from my video-affine-bias and did some research. Here’s what I’ve found…
Types Of Video Games
There are various types of video games, from those intended to educate children through active learning to “gory” ‘shoot em ups’, often frowned upon by parents and frequently blamed for corrupting young and fragile minds.
And, obviously, not all games are suited for playing together with your kids!
While most parents only want their kids to play wholesome educational games, the truth is these games don’t always hold the same excitement as the more violent ones.
Because the gaming market is dominated by adults and not children, it’s understandable that most games are targeted towards the over 18’s. Kids tend to lose out when it comes to the extensive development of genuinely awesome games with lifelike graphics that can fully capture their imagination.
How video games affect not only children but people, in general, is hotly debated by the psychological, educational, and scientific communities. Although many academic experts believe violent, bloodthirsty games lead to aggressive behavior in the real world, scientific study often shows such games may actually be beneficial to the brain.
Well-adjusted individuals of the appropriate age seem to suffer few adverse effects from such games. This is not true for everyone; what needs to be taken into consideration is:
- Age. 18 rated games are 18 rated for a reason.
- Predisposition to violence. Someone who exhibits violent tendencies is likely to be made worse by playing combat type games.
- Susceptibility to suggestion. Some people are more open to suggestion than others. A person who is easily suggestable may be more negatively affected by violent games. Equally, it is arguable they may benefit more from educational ones.
- Knowing right from wrong. Learning good morals is not a high priority in adult video games.
- Mental illness. People with mental illness may be more negatively impacted by violent video games.
The attraction of a video game lies in its rewards. These don’t just include winning, but the sound, graphics, and visual excitement all play a part.
The violence depicted by some video games is not why kids are attracted to them. They enjoy how a game can transport them to a different world, allow them to develop and master new skills, and make their own choices within that universe.
Positive Benefits Of Video Game Play
Playing video games can be a real workout for the brain. Numerous scientists and psychologists believe video games have various benefits.
Many games require multiple skills to achieve a successful outcome, including:
- Fine motor skills
- Hand-eye coordination
- Resource management
- Quick thinking
- Decision making
- Fast analysis
- Inductive reasoning
- Hypothesis testing
- Pattern recognition
- Reasoned judgments
- Risk assessment
- Goal making
- Reading skills
- Math skills
These skills, once learned, can be transferred to daily life. This means video games may actually help make kids smarter by teaching them high-level thinking.
According to psychologist C. Shawn Green from the University of Wisconsin, “Video games change your brain.” Using brain imaging technology, it has been seen that people who regularly participate don’t just change the way they think. The actual structure of their brain is altered. This is called brain plasticity and is similar to how learning new skills such as playing an instrument, learning a new language, or reading develops the brain.
With a combination of intense concentration followed by a reward, the neurotransmitters are strengthened, and strong neural pathways are forged. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published a study where this was substantiated.
Other Video Game Benefits
Beyond the beneficial impact on the skills pointed out above, kids (and adults alike) can often benefit from video games in even more ways. Examples include, but are not limited to…
Gateway to Computing
We live in a fast-moving world, where rapid computer tech advancements are increasingly part of our daily lives. Video games can be an excellent way to introduce children to this technology and make them comfortable with its concepts.
As a parent, it can sometimes be hard to find ways to bond with your child, especially as they get older. Video games allow you to play together and provide you with a fun bonding activity.
Video games offer a fun way to learn new skills. Often the child won’t even realize they are learning but are simply engaged by the animation, colors, challenges, and rewards when they win. Video games can also make learning more difficult subjects, such as math, fun. This is demonstrated in various studies.
A study conducted by Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project found video game playing created greater creativity. This was regardless of gender or the type of game.
As a child masters a new game, their self-esteem, and confidence can grow. The difficulty level is adjustable in many games, so when your kid is just a beginner, they play at a basic level. With regular practice, they build the skills necessary to conquer the game and quickly move on to more difficult challenges.
Achievement And Cooperation
Mastering a game brings feelings of happiness and achievement, which, according to Cyberpsychologist Berni Good, is a human need. Multiplayer games allow for sharing experiences with others, which promotes self-worth and cooperation to achieve common goals.
Strategy And Friendship
Another bonus of multiplayer games is teaching how to listen to the ideas of others. They must formulate plans, distribute tasks according to proficiency, and even be exposed to different cultures if they are played internationally.
Brain scientist Daphne Bavelier states, “When people play action games, they’re changing the brain’s pathways responsible for visual processing.” This sort of training is believed to help the visual system make better use of the information it receives.
Children with dyslexia can learn to read faster with an improved accuracy from playing video games, as shown by a study in the journal ‘Current Biology.’ Improvement in attention translates directly into better reading abilities.
Negative Effects Of Video Games
However (and that is probably why you came here), video games can also have negative impacts on kids and adults alike.
When it comes to video games and kids, the saying “the dose makes the poison” is more true than ever.
I am convinced that, when you, as a Mom or Dad, have developed a sound understanding of video games and media in general, you can judge pretty well what kind of video games are good for your kids, and how much screen time in general and “video game time” in particular is healthy for your kids and yourself to avoid the negative aspects pointed out below.
It is possible to become hooked on video games as they release dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in the brain, just like many addictive substances.
The problem of excessive weight gain in children has grown exponentially. There is a combination of factors that contribute to this. One is the amount of time kids spend in front of screens rather than doing physical activities.
Because the appeal of video games is so strong, children can, if not monitored, spend excessive time sat playing them.
Video gameplay is usually a solitary activity. This can lead to kids becoming socially isolated as they spend less time with others. It can also have a detrimental effect on homework, reading, sports, and socializing with friends and family in the real world. However, gamers often build a community of friends within the game world.
A direct correlation between the time spent playing video games and a child’s school achievements have been shown in studies. It can also cause children to become more argumentative towards teachers and to pick up foul language.
A scientific paper looking at various studies into how sleep is affected by video gameplay shows how detrimental it can be and its knock-on effects.
Increased Aggression and Desensitization.
Some studies have shown children who are frequently exposed to violent games may experience more aggressive thoughts and behaviors. They are also likely to become desensitized to violence, making it seem more acceptable in real-life circumstances. This was shown in a scientific study by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. This is because violent behavior, aggression, and vengeance are rewarded in many games.
Empathy and Callousness
Like aggression, some research shows that continual exposure to certain types of games can cause children to lose the ability to show compassion towards others, making them more callous and unfeeling.
Attracting Sexual Predators
The media frequently reports how children are targeted by sexual predators, who are often adults posing as children online.
Hence, I suggest that you start off by playing “offline only” games, and always enjoy the games together with your children. By doing so, you can prevent them from getting in touch with toxic communities and dangerous contacts online all together!
What We Parents Can Do
As parents, we want the best for our kids. This means guiding them to make appropriate choices.
Don’t give in
It can be easy to give in to the pressure children put upon us. When your son or daughter pleads to play a particular game, even though the age rating for that game demonstrates, it has mature content.
They may argue that their friends play it, and you’re being unfair if you don’t let them. But age ratings are given for a reason and are best adhered to, to protect your children.
Some video games are beneficial when played in moderation. Try to encourage your kids to enjoy games that are educational rather than purely entertaining or violent.
Be firm about how much time can be spent each day playing and don’t allow play before bed.
Interact with your kids while they play, join in, ask questions, and give praise when they do something right.
Look for games that can teach your children in fun ways, with relatable characters they can bond with.
Encourage exercise as part of the game. The Nintendo Wii is the premier platform for this with interactive dance and sports-based games.
But Then, What Games Should I Play With My Kids
About two years ago I have written a pretty well-recognized blog article about my personal video game recommendations for parents and their kids to enjoy together. It’s still very much up to date and I would still recommend these very games if a close friend would ask me about the topic. So please go ahead and feel free to check it out 🙂
Also in 2018 I have published a more general guide on how to approach the topic of introducing technology to your kids “the dad way”. If you’re interested in learning more about the topic, you can do so here…
As with many things in life, it’s all about keeping balance.
I hope you’ve found this blog informative. It’s certainly a fascinating topic, and I really have only skimmed the surface here.
If you would like to share your thoughts and ideas on the topic, please let’s discuss it in the comment section below. I’m interested in your personal experience on the topic. How do YOU and YOUR kids go about the topic of playing video games together?
Cheers for now,
P.S.: Did you EVER happen to yell at your child or call a timeout? Did you regret it afterwards? I certainly have, and I never felt good about it! If you want to learn how to put an end to this behavior, decode your kids and understand them so much better and become a calm parent, then make sure to read my FULL REVIEW of “Positive Parenting Solutions” HERE. This program changed our family’s life and we saw first results within just 3(!) days. And it will certainly work for you as well!