Video Games

Home video games are very popular and have a significant influence on our children. Over 85% of students say they play video games regularly. Over 30% of American homes have a video game system hooked up to the television. Millions more own portable game systems. Over 20% of homes have broadband access to video games. While these games are still heavily played by males, the number of female players is rapidly growing. Video games have a positive and a negative side. With proper supervision, they can be a fun and educational form of play.

What is good about video games?

Compared to watching television, video games are a better form of entertainment because they are interactive. Your child's mind has to be turned on and working. The following are some possible benefits of playing video games.

  • They promote attention to details (such as clues), memorizing, sequencing, and using strategies.
  • They promote eye-hand (visual motor) coordination.
  • They improve visual perception (spatial awareness).
  • They allow use of imagination.
  • They provide entertainment children and adults can share.

What is bad about video games?

The drawbacks of playing video games are similar to those of watching TV:

  • If allowed to rule your child's free time and study time, video games can decrease development of skills in sports, music, and art. Performance in school can be affected if reading and homework are not done.
  • If your child plays alone, it can decrease important social time with family and friends. A child's interactions with friends may become limited to pumping them for information about hidden passageways and secret doors. Encourage your child to play video games with others.
  • Violent games can teach acceptance of violent behavior in real life.
  • Video gaming can become an addictive behavior.

You need to be concerned if your child:

  • is doing worse in school
  • doesn't do his homework
  • doesn't get enough sleep
  • doesn't play outdoors
  • becomes a loner
  • seems preoccupied with aggressive behavior.

How can I help set limits on video games?

Don't expect your child to set his own limits on the amount of time he spends playing video games and watching TV. You are responsible for your child's well-being and must set limits for him. If the rules are broken, deny your child access to the game for a day or more. Insist that homework and chores be completed before your child can play video games. Game time can even be used as an incentive for finishing these tasks properly.

  • Limit video game time.

    A reasonable limit is an hour of play on school nights and 2 hours a day on weekends. Some parents allow the video games only on weekends. The limits are for video game and TV time combined. If your child is doing poorly in school, temporarily eliminate video game time on school nights. Some parents allow their children to earn video game time by putting in reading time.

  • Don't allow your child to postpone bedtime because he wants to finish a video game.

    Remember that children who stay up late are usually too tired the next day to remember what they are taught in school. Don't allow your child to have a video game set in his bedroom, because this eliminates your control over time spent playing. When bedtime is drawing near, give your child a 10-minute warning.

  • Encourage your children to settle their own disputes over using the video game.

    Try to stay out of disagreements, as long as they remain verbal. Children can't go through life having a referee to resolve their differences. If the dispute becomes too loud, remove the game until your children work out a solution.

  • Help your child choose video games that are not excessively violent.

    Encourage your child to buy or rent sports, puzzle, maze, or adventure games. Avoid games that contain lots of murder, combat, and destruction. Research suggests that video games encourage more aggressive behavior than violent TV shows because your child is an active participant not just an observer. If your child borrows or rents a new game, make sure it is alright before he uses it. Look at game ratings, but also preview the game before letting your child play. Ratings are not a perfect system for screening things you don't want your child to hear or see.

  • If you own a computer, take advantage of some of the educational games available.

    Educational computer games tap the motivational power of arcade games and help your child learn. They combine academics and entertainment, and also teach computer skills. If you have a choice, buy computer games instead of video games.

  • Try to encourage a variety of free time activities.

    Video games are not bad for children. They can teach certain skills and they are more educational than watching TV. If you try to forbid video games, your child will play them at an arcade or a friend's home. So teach your child to spend a reasonable amount of time playing them. Encourage reading, music, hobbies, sports, and playing with friends as well.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-06-04
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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