Kids and video games

Kids: positive effects of video games

For people who are not used to play video games, they can seem like a strange, threatening thing for their kids. You can decide not to buy your child any video game, but chances are that she will play them to a friend’s home.

A BabyCenter survey found that on 3,000 moms, 50% allow their children younger than 3 to play with their smartphone. Nearly one in four of the apps on their smartphones are for their kids.

According to Common Sense Media, 50% of under 4 children use a smartphone or a computer, and they use a computer at the age of 3 1/2 circa already.

As a parent, you have to be conscious of the kind of games your child is playing with, meaning that you should know when it’s time to switch off the game without wasting hours or days of progress: save the game, or wait for a “level up” situation to quit it.
You basically need to be aware of how the game-related factors work. You don’t want to just turn it off because “the lunch is ready”, while she almost got at that point, without considering the efforts to do it.

The majority of her gaming time should be a shared experience with you as a parent.

Video gaming doesn’t have to be an addiction. You shouldn’t allow your child to play to escape from her (or your) daily problems. You need to be involved in your kids’ gaming experience by monitoring them while spending their time in front of that screen, but also properly playing with them.

Video gaming have to be a shared experience with parents

Do your own research! Gaming is not just a time-wasting activity.
Video games can be really good brain development tools.

Let’s have a look!

Can your child play video games?

There are several ways to play video games.

Since it’s just another way to learn new things, you should encourage your child to get the positive effects of the gaming time and avoid the negative ones.

To do this you need to create good habits with the right devices.
Video games console
In fact, consoles, computer games, and apps are very popular with toddlers and teenagers.

But remember, video games are not a childminder.

The number of devices you can play video games on is limitless and it grows every day. This is a short list of the main ones.

  • Personal computers and laptops;
  • Consoles like Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox One, and Nintendo Wii U Handheld, or portable consoles like Sony Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS;
  • Tablets and smartphones;
  • Virtual reality headsets.

Video games and gaming apps come in many formats: can be physical media like DVDs, you can use them online or have them embedded into specific devices like consoles.
You can buy them in shops or download over the internet, as a tablet app or a software per se.

Some games allow you to play with all their functionalities and no restrictions. Others offer extra content to be bought – new levels, new characters, tools, extra lives, etc…

Some are free for the base version but you need to buy extra features such as characters or tools that allow you to progress quickly through the next levels.

Some of them are multiplayer, where more than one person can play, in the same room or somewhere else, online with friends or strangers in any part of the planet.

Which video games and apps are the best?

According to several experts, children younger than 5 can better learn by handling physical materials like blocks (for example LEGO), and outdoor playtime is essential. Images on a computer screen can be helpful as well around the age of 2 1/2, although some kids aren’t ready until they’re older.

When choosing a video game for a child you should focus on positive values. The time spent playing should let the child feel productive.

Reward his creativity and planning skills during the gaming time (Minecraft).
Support your child to learn rules of the game and strategies to complete tasks and levels (Fifa).
Motivate the child to play with others as a member of a team in the same room or online, according to her age (Wii Sports).
Stimulate the child’s curiosity to pass different difficulty levels so that he can progress through stages (Fruit Ninja).
Make it easy to play, take breaks and save levels, make her play simple games that have many levels (Angry Birds).
Make children play with games having simple controls, to avoid to discourage him if he isn’t able to manage the controls.

Until he is very young, you should look for G rated games (suitable for children, no violence, offensive language, or sexual activity) and limit or avoid him to play online.

Don’t forget to do your homework, don’t choose any game:

Fun first. A young child learns by having fun, you need to focus on his enjoyment, this allows him to consider learning as a pleasing activity.
Know what you do. Don't give hima video game just because it's "for children", check for reviews and look at the benefits it provides.
Look for games that allow more than one player. This makes his gaming experience shared with you as a parent or a social activity shared with friends, make it fun for the both of you.
Choose games that allow your little one an easy win, something with a quick and instant feedback to keep him engaged. It has to be easy to control.
Limit or avoid any online access. Before allowing him to play to any game, make sure you restrict the chance for him to interact with strangers and filter any not appropriate content. And supervise him.

Video Games for Kids, Age-by-Age

Preschooler (2-5 years)

For your very young child, you should focus on video games that involve basic learning concepts, music, and interactions.
Most of the games designed for children of this age are supposed to be educational, teaching them basic skills.
This kind of video games have to be played by your child and you as an adult (parent, relative, caregiver) and are great for kids who don’t yet go to school.

With these games, an adult can use a second remote if the child gets stuck. The playing experience should reproduce real-life situations.

Grade-Schooler (6-8 years)

Kids 6 to 8 should play video games with real-world related themes: with these games they should learn about the world around them. Wildlife or Oceans are subjects that Nintendo DS’ mini-games can help with.

You should use your child’s interests and help him to improve some skills related to that. If your kid is a rugby or football fan, you can teach him about teamwork or athleticism, and how to react to real world situations. Madden is one of the games you should buy him.

Teens (9-12 years)

Teens are usually more competitive. She can now start to play multiplayer games, or games where she doesn’t play alone but with or against someone in the same room or online. Don’t forget to check her during the game or, at least, set parental control properly. This because this kind of games needs players to interact with other, older sometimes, kids.

Some of the best video games can be Minecraft or Sid Meier’s Civilization. This kind of games, in fact, makes your kid customize her own experience by creating buildings, making her own character and leveling up. Customizable games are perfect for this age since she can create something by herself.

Especially with teens, gaming (with you monitoring their gameplay) can be a really positive experience. Games can help your kid to discover new things, express her own creativity and stimulate her mind to think and do things she couldn’t usually do.

Video games benefits for kids

There are several benefits your child can get from video gaming:

Development benefits
Improve the hand/eye coordination and refine motor skills.
Try troubleshooting, strategy, planning, decision-making and logic skills.
Make her set and achieve goals.
Make her perform several things at once.
Improve her time management skills.

Emotional benefits
Feel positive and satisfied with life.
Feel relaxed and less stressed – video games can be a way to manage mood.
Improve his self-esteem, as he gets better at pass through levels, this also makes him feel able to do something well.
Allow him to make his own choices.
Feel connected to other people.

Social benefits
Enhance friendship and meet new people.
Learn to play as a member of a team.
Learn to play well with other people and take turns.
Learn how to help other people in a social environment.
Make your child feel closer to family members when you play games together.

Educational benefits
Memorizing skills.
Thinking and meditating about things and situations.
Identify and understand visual information.
Understanding abstract concepts she can learn at school, like maths.
Learning words that she usually doesn’t use in her everyday life.

But let’s talk better about them!

Social Skills

As adults, we tend to view video games as isolating activities, with the stereotypical lonely gamer sitting in front of a big screen. But contrary to what you might think, video games can be very social.

They create a common ground for children to make friends, this is actually one of the main reasons to play. It allows them to hang out together. In fact, 70% of boys are more likely to play video games with a group of friends, in a room or online.
Happy Children Playing

Interactive video games can also create opportunities for kids to learn leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

When adults aren’t involved, kids need to negotiate rules, follow a set of directives and take turns to keep play together. Learning how to play make them cooperate and may also play a role in conflicts resolution and mediation. This teaches them to make wiser and more ethical decisions in real-life scenarios.

Examples of games helping them to develop these skills are Minecraft, School of Dragons or Quandary, since they create virtual communities and competition between kids.

Problem Solving

Long-term studies demonstrated a positive link between teens playing strategic video games and their problem-solving abilities.
Games that require players to investigate, negotiate, plan several approaches to advance to the next level and implement these strategies, can help improve children’s brain development. Puzzle games, such as 2048, and role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, show improvement in several skills like planning, organization, and flexible thinking.
The process of fully understanding the rules they need to respect and learning by doing, give children the decision-making skills they can develop during their lives.

According to a 2013 study from the American Psychological Association “The more adolescents reported playing strategic video games, the more they improved in problem-solving and school grades the following year”.

Playing video games involves search, negotiation, planning, and trying different approaches to advance.
Many games, such as Zelda or Bakugan: Defenders of the Core, involve planning and problem-solving skills. Kids can also customize the characters’ appearance and create new game levels. Video games don’t have to be “Educational” to help children learn something like making decisions, using strategies, anticipating consequences or expressing their personalities.

Memory Skills

Several studies demonstrated that video games are pretty good for the gamer’s memory and cognitive skills. A recent study found that the brain region associated with learning and memory was modified by playing 3D games.

The improvement amount of the memory was remarkable, up to 12% in some people. Even if it’s not yet clear why or how video gaming helps to increase memory, scientists are enthusiastic about how this finding will be used to treat people with memory and cognition issues.

Creativity Skills

The fact that the habit of playing video games can have a direct and positive imprint on creative thinking is something many scientists agree about.

Boys and girls used to play video games are usually more creative than those who don’t, says a research conducted on 500 12 years old kids from the Michigan State University.

According to the research, there is a connection between playing video games, like Minecraft, and the ability to be creative. They gave them some tasks to be completed and asked the kids to draw, tell stories, ask questions and make predictions. Scientists finding was that, the more the kids played video games, the more their creativity and curiosity increased in these other activities was high.

Health benefits

“When children and adults with acute and chronic pain become immersed in video game action, they receive some analgesic benefit”, “The focus is drawn to the game, not the pain or the medical procedure, while the virtual reality experience engages visual and other senses”, according to Medical News Today.

According to researchers, even if the mind is not really engaged with the game you are playing at, you can have a stress reduction. Playing video games like Angry Birds, several players have been found with better mood, more relaxed and less anxiety.

Video games can help with cognitive function in early age as well as elderly people. This means that spending some time into Minecraft or Angry Birds, planning and applying strategies, can make you more attentive, focused, and perceptive.

Playing can be useful as therapy also for an age-related cognitive disease like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Motor Skills

Although you can think the opposite, video games are a good way to improve your children’s motor skills. There are plenty of sport, dance and physical activities game out there, which allow your toddler to move in front of a screen.

Even if her physical activity should not be limited to this, video games can help to find out new moves and to promote a whole-body level of interaction, with movements your kid would never do if not requested.

A Deakin University research analyzed 53 3 to 6 children: they found that the ones who played interactive games with consoles like Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, had better object motor skills than those who played non-interactive games.

Other researchers found that learning new moves from sports video games like football, basketball, tennis, skateboarding or even dancing, leads kids to practice them in outdoor activities, to improve themselves in those sports in the real life. 
The research showed also that playing realistic sports video games bring to spend more time outdoor. It’s likely that they improve hand/eye coordination.

Self-Esteem

Playing educational video games seem to increase kids’ self-esteem, self-confidence and provide them a positive feeling of accomplishment. Solving a puzzle or complete a level give them rewards and satisfaction for a task that they have independently completed.

With video games kids can change identity, be a specific character or create a hero: this improves their self-esteem, found a study at the University of Essex.

Video Games have been also implemented to support kids with special needs such as Down syndrome or autism, to develop social skills. They are allowed to make mistakes without feeling ashamed.

Learning

Children can practice reading, spelling words on the screen, understanding concepts, but also following and giving directions. Kids suffering dyslexia can improve their reading skills as well.

Many video games use history to engage players. This kind of content promotes kids to read and research. Video games such as Age of Mythology, Civilization, and Age of Empires can open a new door to for your child. World history, geography, ancient cultures and international relations can be exciting to discover for a young mind.

If you help your daughter to investigate with books, Internet sites, museum visits and media about mythology, cultures, and geography, she can collect a wide range of complex language, content, and connections that help as a preparation for her future learning.

Focus and Attention

Video games engage the sense of attention at a heightened level.
Your child’s attention duration can be kept for a longer period. If he is hyperactive or has some difficulties to stay focused on some tasks, video games can give him a comfortable, calm environment to stay focused on.

Researchers found that kids who play video games are good to filter out.
Action video gaming improves performance on the ability to quickly locate a target in the middle of distractions (Green & Bavelier 2012) and improve the chance to track identical moving objects to other moving objects in the visual field (Trick et al., 2005).

Job

Researchers show that video games improve performances at work, especially for roles requiring great eye/hand coordination, attention, working memory and decision-making skills.

Some kind of video games rewards and encourages leadership skills by managing virtual communities, working for their safety, taking turns leading and following, etc. Researchers found that players show a motivation in their real-world career goals by leading people and quick decision-making.

Kids who had played online with other players had acquired leadership skills like persuading and motivating peers, mediating disputes and leading older people. This kind of skills will be a valuable ability for the future.

Decision Making

Many video games ask you to answer to many questions and solve problems and tasks in a short period of time not to get killed. This push the player to consider pros & cons and make a decision that will impact the in-game experience.
Strategy games require you to think on a very high level. A study shows that heavy players are 25 percent faster in answering to questions about an image they had just seen compared to people who don’t play.

How long should your child be in front of a screen?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 2 spend more than 2 hours per day in front of a screen, while they should not spend any time at all. At that age, they should spend much more time to improve their listening and social skills.

When she get older, it is important to set limits on screen activity (computer and TV) from the beginning and watch it with her. It’s important for you as a parent to be a role model she can look at. Pay attention yourself of how much time you spend playing video games, watching TV or using your smartphone (texting, as well!).

Should your child use accessories for kids?

Accessories for children can be a mouse designed to fit tiny hands, small keyboards, covers, trackpads, touchpads, and headphones.

They can be useful to protect your computer against liquids, as screen films or skins too.
When you buy a game for your console, check if you need special accessories for a young kid.

In October 2016 the AAP released some guidelines about the screen time for children younger than 2 and suggested parental monitoring for all kids:

Avoid use any screen for children younger than 18 months.
Limit screens to 1 hour per day of quality programs for children 2 to 5 years old children.

In any case, create a family plan with rules and apply them for older kids too.

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