From little creatures racing on rainbow roads to language lessons from cartoon owls, video games can be a fun way to pass the time for kids and adults alike. But just like sugary snacks or temper tantrums, a little is fine, but too much becomes unhealthy, fast. Excessive screen time, and video games in particular, are a prime example of a slippery slope.
However, there is a lot more to consider than simply setting time limits. With all of the compulsive and mature content available online these days, many parents wonder: are video games bad for kids? While they can pose a risk for inappropriate behaviors and negative health effects, they can actually be a good thing, a positive aspect of your child’s life too. So, let’s dive into one of the most hotly debated parenting topics: should kids play video games? Keep reading for our parents’ guide to all things gaming.
While video games can get a bad reputation for mature, violent, or sexual content, many games can promote learning, creativity, imagination, social skills, resilience, problem solving, focus, hand-eye coordination, and even movement. Every game is different and some are more helpful than others.
For example, gamified language learning and music apps can help children develop skills, world-building games can help kids engage their imagination and creativity, and dancing or sport games can promote physical activity. Some multiplayer games can also help kids bond and spend time with friends either in-person or remotely. Kids playing video games can also learn to develop emotional resilience as they work through negative emotions when they lose a round.
However, video games are not without their faults. Many popular games contain adult themes such as violence, sexual content, and inappropriate language. So, are video games bad for kids? Not necessarily! Parents must evaluate games carefully before allowing kids to play in order to prevent excessive exposure to mature content and unhealthy behavior changes.
Video gaming, much like other screen-related activities such as social media, can be habit forming and even potentially addictive. It is important for parents to be conscious of the amount of time children spend playing and whether or not it is interfering with the other crucial aspects of their lives such as time outdoors, quality sleep, exercise, and social interaction — away from the screen.
Video games are famed for their often explicit content. But some games are created just for kids! To distinguish what is appropriate for your child’s age range, you should check the game’s ratings and evaluate the content critically before allowing your child to play. The Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings are listed on games to allow adults to assess the age appropriateness before purchasing. For example, E for everyone rated games are considered safe for children.
Kids playing video games that are intended for mature audiences should be avoided. So, do your research before buying your child games or letting them play at a friend’s house. Assess not only the rating but also the themes and content to decide whether the game is a positive, healthy fit for your child. Parents also need to take note of what kids are being exposed to. Some games allow players to chat and play with strangers online. This can be a dangerous position if children encounter and begin communicating with players that engage in inappropriate gameplay or even predatory behavior.
As with all types of screen time, video game time limits by age can be a helpful tool to set boundaries with your child on how much time they should be spending playing. It can also be useful to set limitations on when it is and is not appropriate to play. For example, kids should avoid gaming while doing homework, eating, and before going to sleep.
Establishing a schedule for when playing is and isn’t allowed can be helpful to set boundaries. Especially at night, it is important to avoid adrenaline rushes and flooding the eyes with light before bed which can reduce sleep quality. Video gaming should not replace or eclipse any of the other meaningful aspects of your child’s life including getting enough sleep, spending quality time with friends and family, exercise, time outdoors, and schoolwork.
In addition to limitations, it is important that parents monitor their child’s habits and exposure to video games. One way to better understand your child’s exposure is to play with them. This provides parents an opportunity to evaluate the games appropriateness and help explain any new situations or more mature themes that they might encounter. This can also be a good bonding opportunity and an opening for teachable moments.
Another way to monitor your child’s gaming habits is to consider placing devices such as gaming consoles, computers, phones, tablets, or other electronic devices with gaming capabilities in the common spaces in your home so you can keep an eye on what your child is playing, with who, and for how long. This is especially important at night to establish appropriate time limitations and protect a bedtime routine. Equally as important, parents must help children find balance in their lives. Encourage time outdoors by finding creative activities, like a bike ride or critter watching, that motivate even the most stubborn kids playing video games to drop the controller and choose the natural, real world instead.
As a parent, it is important to evaluate not just the content of video games, but also your child’s behavior. When allowing your child to play video games, take note of their behavior and assess any changes over time. Are they developing any new symptoms? For example, does your child show signs of tiredness, anti-social behavior, aggression, or are they starting to use new, inappropriate language?
If you notice anything unusual, talk to your child about it in a way that encourages a trusting relationship. If you have any concerns, reach out to your pediatrician for advice and assistance evaluating the physical and mental health of your child. They can help you assess whether or not gaming is becoming an unhealthy habit and can provide advice on how to proceed with rules surrounding your kids playing video games in the future.
At Coastal Kids Pediatrics, our mission is to support you in raising the happiest, healthiest children possible. We believe that making difficult decisions like whether or not your video games are a positive or negative aspect of your child’s life, is a personal choice for every family. We hope this parents guide to video games is helpful as your family navigates potential risks and benefits of gaming for children. While some games and gaming habits can be positive, others can be harmful. If you choose to allow your child to play video games, your passionate Coastal Kids pediatrician is here to help you discover how to set limits and watch out for unhealthy habits. To make an appointment visit us at www.coastalkids.com.