Earlier this year, my daughter Elsie started playing video games. I don’t mean one of those free fairy makeover apps, I mean a proper games console. My husband had been waiting for this moment for six years, she was finally old enough to start basic training. Fast forward six months and she’s pretty hooked… but have we started her on it too young? Let’s look at the evidence – As usual, I will be researching important parenting decisions after I’ve already accidently made them.
What the headlines say about video games:
So… gaming is addictive, but will create an improved ‘nice but dim’ version of your child. Doesn’t sound too bad to me, my daughter already out-wits me and she’s only six. However, I suspect these headlines are not suggesting making your kid dumber is an improvement, so lets delve into the nitty gritty…
What the experts say about video games:
“If you watch kids on a computer, most of them are just hitting keys or moving the mouse as fast as they can. It reminds me of rats running in a maze.” (Educational psychologist Jane Healy)
Does this only apply to kids? That’s pretty much how I still play games and I don’t always lose. Jane Healy suggest waiting until seven to allow children to play video games, to ‘allow their brains to develop normally’. I’m pretty sure being better at angry birds than Mom by age 4 means Elsie’s brain is already mush, whoops. However, I’m certainly not the only parent guilty of using IPhone’s babysitting services while on a long journey and in a waiting room.
“I think what we’re seeing here is the evolution of gaming in modern society. Video games are now a part of a normal childhood,” (Katherine Keyes, Columbia University)
Ms Keyes believes gaming has become “pro-social” and a child excluded from an activity that has become so normal is more likely to develop social problems with their peers. I can’t see Elsie being shunned in the playground for not keeping up with the latest gaming news just yet, but I get her point.
‘In 2012, researchers at Iowa State University found that “prosocial games” – titles that encouraged players to co-operate and help each other – increased helpful behaviour.’ (Keith Stuart, The Guardian)
In my recent post about Elsie’s competitive streak, I wrote about collaboration and cooperation as part of competition. This is totally the same thing… I would even suggest that her competitive streak has been fuelled by her love for Mario Cart. It’s a great multi-player game and can be fun to play as a family, but let’s be honest there’s only ever one winner… no collaborative play.
“often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving. Gaming with their children also offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’” (Elizabeth Hayes, ASU)
Angry birds is basically a physics lesson on projectiles… Maybe Elsie’s brain hasn’t gone 100% mush just yet.
What I say after doing a lot of googling:
As far as I can see, the press is quick to make sweeping statements but the ‘experts’ are a little less dramatic. Like all things fun… moderation is key. Katherine Keyes suggests restricting screen time to 20mins a day after homework, very sensible.
Most ‘experts’ say screens should be avoided before 2yrs and games should be avoided before 7yrs. I personally think it depends on the child. Elsie has never had the best fine motor skills and I have noticed a massive improvement in that since she started gaming. Also, although she may have become more competitive, games such as Mario Cart have helped her cope with losing. She used to be the worst sore loser but she has slowly learnt that it doesn’t matter if she comes last, next time she will do better. She quite often makes the analogy when working on something tough… “I used to be bad at Mario, but now I’m really good.” This is definitely positive.
Despite this, I also understand that some games are more appropriate than others. I’m not talking about six-year-olds playing Grand Theft Auto… obviously that’s a no-no, sorry Daddy. But some games such as Mario Maker for example, are creative, problem solving, collaborative and are not at all violent. So my ‘expert’ advice would be: Let them play, but play with them and problem solve together. Limit gaming time to prevent brain mush, and choose their games carefully.
If you would like to read some of the articles I managed to procrastinate a whole morning’s chores with, here you go:
- Forbes, 2013. Research says Parents and Kids Should Play Video Games Together.
- The Guardian, 2014. What every parent needs to know about video games: a crash course.
- News.com.au, 2008. Smarter Games, Dumber Children.
- Raise Smart Kid. Positive and Negative Effects of Video Games.
- U.S. News, 2016. Study: Video Games Don’t Cause Psychological Harm in Children.