Chances are your kids play video games, or someday they will. They will play for hours on end, if you allow it. You might worry about the time they spend with a controller in hand. You might wonder, are these games warping my children?
That depends. Video games can have many benefits, and many drawbacks.
“There are a lot of complexities, depending on the age of the child and the type of games. The content is very important, and how much they play is very important.”
First, let’s go to the good.
Games such as Minecraft can benefit kids in several ways. Through these brain games they learn problem solving, strategizing, flexibility and also social skills, Dr. Bilge-Johnson said.
“It engages the complex thinking system in a child’s brain that may actually help them think critically and also may help them deal with frustration,” she said. “Socially, kids learn together, experience together, share ideas and solutions, and communicate about how to deal with things differently.”
Many games also help improve hand-eye coordination, and active games get your kids moving. And physical activity-oriented games aren’t just good for the body – movement also benefits the brain and helps reduce stress and anxiety, Dr. Bilge-Johnson said.
“Also, if the content is pro-social – helping or doing something good – we know that has a positive effect on the brain structure,” she said.
On the flip side, too much video gaming can have negative consequences. Video game addiction is recognized as a psychological disorder. It impacts sleep, academic performance, listening and reasoning ability, and social skills.
Some research also shows violent games such as Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat can trigger aggression in younger kids, Dr. Bilge-Johnson said. Violent games have been shown to actually shrink the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotions. They desensitize kids to violence.
Young kids should not be exposed to violent games, she said. For all kids, video games should be limited to 1 hour a day during the week and up to 2 hours on weekends. Parents need to know the content.
A 2014 study of children ages 10-15 found in some cases video games are beneficial. But benefits turn into negatives for the heaviest users.
You should establish limits for kids, both in time spent gaming and the content, Dr. Bilge-Johnson said. She also suggested that for some parents, playing video games with your kids could be a way to connect with them. “Parents should know what the kids are playing, and they can play, too. It’s a chance for you to have conversations and to think together. It can be a bonding time,” she said.