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Video games: A problem or a blessing?

Do video games help children widen their interests and sharpen their intellectual skills as manufacturers claim? Or do they pose problems that inhibit learning and encourage bad attitudes and habits?

Video games can work for rather than against children. Parents can ensure that this happens by following these guidelines.

  • Select games that promote problem solving. Think about your child’s needs and choose games that sharpen your child’s capacities. Look for games that are educational.
  • Set limits on the amount of time your child plays alone. Suggested limits for video games and TV watching are no more than 1 hour for video and 1 to 2 hours of TV a day.
  • Look for games that encourage cooperation. This may be difficult. The most common scenario is of one character performing an aggressive act against enemies. This usually involves killing the other players.
  • Play video games with your child. Playing together helps monitor the content and determine which games are appropriate for your child.
  • Monitor the amount of violence in the games children play. Television viewing of violence and aggression tends to encourage aggressive behavior. Recent research suggests a similar relationship with playing violent video games.
  • Use the E.S.R.B. ratings listed on the box. E is appropriate for Everyone, age 6 and up. T means appropriate for Teens or youth, 12 and up. M ratings are for mature audiences and are not appropriate for any age youth. Parents need to use these ratings, because most stores don't enforce them.
  • Pay attention to the attitudes expressed toward gender roles in video games. In many games, women are acted upon rather than initiators of action. Games aimed at boys such as military adventures, sports, or monster chasing tend to have few positive female characters. Try to select games that portray both genders positively.

By following these suggestions, you can maximize the positive effects of video games. For instance, they can increase motivation for some children. Also, computers offer quick and clear feedback about performance, with no judgment. Finally, many computer games promote a feeling of mastery for their participants.

Related resources

Watching TV/Screen Time and Children — American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry — Get an overview of the negative effects of too much TV/screen time, and tips for parents on what to do to turn electronic media into a positive experience.

Television and Children University of Michigan Health System — Explore how television effect children, including it's effect on brain development, aggression, gender roles, and more.

Technology and MediaParentFurther — Get tips and strategies for raising media-wise kids, including dealing with video game addiction, sexting, and more.

Erna Fishhaut

Revised 2009 by Kathleen A. Olson, Extension educator in family relations. Reviewed 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency.

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