You’ve probably heard someone talk about the dangers of gaming before. Many parents feel concerned about them because they’re unsure if it’s healthy for their child’s developing brain. The answer is more complex than a simple “good” or “bad.” Still, you can review the pros and cons of video games to understand their effect on your child.
Pros of Video Games
There’s been plenty of talk about how bad video games are for children. In reality, they’re usually pretty beneficial for social and cognitive development.
1. Builds Social Skills
Children playing prosocial video games are more likely to engage in similar behavior in their day-to-day lives. When they help others or establish positive connections in gaming, that mentality translates to their real-world actions.
Sky: Children of the Light is a multiplayer role-playing game. It encourages children to reciprocate positive social interactions with its reward mechanic. They have the opportunity to give candles and hearts to other players as they collect them through the story’s progression. The point is to help others out in their own adventure. In cases like this, kids learn positive social and emotional skills.
2. Improves Memory
Studies show video games can improve memory in children even after they stop playing. They create specific pathways in the brain that allow them to remember things more easily and for longer periods. Although you might think gaming is mindless, it engages them in a way that can benefit them later in life.
3. Provides Learning Opportunities
Out of all the pros and cons of video games, the opportunity for learning has to be the most impactful. Games can cover anything from escape room puzzles to timed riddles. They offer an extensive range of experiences that can teach things like cause and effect. Children may not get these kinds of learning opportunities elsewhere.
For example, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has a unique building mechanic. It allows players to create solutions to puzzles by gluing objects together that they find in the world. They can use anything from rocks to wooden wheels, which lets them try different and creative approaches to obstacles. It gives them a simple, flexible way to come up with their own answer.
The puzzle game Unpacking is another example. It takes something as simple as moving houses and turns it into a fun, interactive experience that tells the story of the main character’s life. Your child can learn the best place to put everything and increase their reasoning and perception through the process.
4. Increases Cognitive skills
Many mechanics in video games rely on quick thinking or responses, so it’s no surprise that playing them can increase children’s cognitive skills. One study of almost 2,000 children found that three hours of gaming per day resulted in higher scores on cognitive skills tests and better impulse control. They activate and strengthen certain parts of their brain, which results in better performance in real life.
5. Strengthens Emotional Resilience
Although losing in a video game can frustrate young people, it’s a good experience. Video games expose them to low-stakes situations where losing has no actual consequences, so they can go through a trial-and-error process to build emotional resilience.
One research team surveyed almost 100 children about their anger management and negative responses to their video game team and themselves. They found that the children were much more likely to adapt their behavior to be positive once they recognized how they reacted. Even if they don’t respond well at first, they’re young and still learning. With guidance, gaming benefits their emotional maturity.
Cons of Video Games
Even though video games have a lot of positives, you should also be aware of the cons to best understand their potential risks.
1. Possibility of Addiction
Although the possibility of addiction is pretty small, a gaming disorder is a real thing. It happens when someone prioritizes gaming over other essential tasks despite facing negative consequences and seems to lack control over their behavior. If a child puts off their homework, family, friends and other hobbies for a year or more in favor of shutting themselves away to game, they might be addicted.
Although they initially play the game for fun, it becomes an issue when they don’t enjoy it anymore but continue playing. When they reach the point where it makes them sad, angry or frustrated, but they still continue, it becomes a disorder. Again, it’s relatively uncommon, but it’s worth mentioning.
2. Exposure to Violence
Although violence in video games and violent actions in real life have no proven connection, some games still expose children to levels of gore or sexual content. Children are like sponges when they’re young, meaning they quickly soak up information.
In fact, the top five best-selling games on Steam in 2022 were Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Uncharted, Gotham Knights, Destiny 2 and Counter Strike, which all featured some form of violence. It may not be healthy or productive for you to allow them to interact with content that’s too mature for them.
3. Potential for Poor Moods
While video games typically improve children’s social life, spending too much time gaming can isolate them from others. Playing games in excess can also increase the potential for anxiety, depression and mood disorder development over time. Prioritizing a digital world over their real friends and other physical hobbies might lead to poor attitudes or even disorders.
4. Presence of Strangers
One of the most significant drawbacks out of all the pros and cons of video games is the presence of strangers. While meeting someone online doesn’t carry the same risks as an in-person situation, it’s still not ideal. Many games can expose children to online communities from all over the world. Your child might also hear or talk about things that aren’t appropriate for their age.
5. Immediacy of Rewards
While much of the gaming industry is focused on creating fun and artistic content, a good portion is geared toward profit. Many games nowadays have things like loot boxes or character appearances that players can purchase with real money.
It may seem like one of the more minor pros and cons of video games, but those kinds of things target the reward and impulse parts of the brain. While adults can distinguish between “wants” and “needs” and not fall for the marketing tactics, kids aren’t usually developed enough to do the same.
Kids get boosts in the reward center of their brains when they get immediate rewards, which can hook them in. Those quick hits of serotonin don’t bode well for their long-term development. Games also constantly reward them with level-ups and in-game items. It’s not a bad thing in itself, but they might grow dependent on the happy feeling it gives them.
How to Foster a Good Gaming Environment for Children
All of the pros and cons of video games center around the idea of limited, monitored play. Children aren’t capable of rational decision-making or emotional regulation yet, so it’s best to guide them. You can turn the cons into a learning experience for them to help them understand the potential consequences. Limiting their screen time and rewarding good online behavior will go a long way in fostering a good gaming environment.
You can have them play only age-appropriate games and install parental controls so they can’t make purchases or download something without your permission. As long as you stay informed and teach them how to play responsibly, you can keep them safe and encourage positive development.
What Parents Should Know About Video Games
Video games aren’t good or bad by themselves. There are plenty of games perfect for your child’s age range that can encourage positive social skills and give them learning opportunities — just keep in mind you should probably monitor and control their screen time.
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