After the holidays, many children are likely still excitedly playing with their new toys – some of which may include video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 76% of children play video games, whether on the phone, computer or gaming systems. Video gaming has also increased measurably during the pandemic as people have spent more time indoors.
For the most part, video games can have a positive impact on brain development, helping younger children develop language, social and motor skills. Some games help children learn different languages, like Spanish, and for those who are shy, gaming can also be a good way to interact with people at a safe distance. Additionally, video games can help teach kids how to win, lose and problem-solve – all three equally as important.
But there can also be a darker side to this popular activity. Some studies have found that video games could cause disrupted sleep and addiction to screen time. While it is often suggested that these games can increase aggressive behavior, there is still no real consensus on this despite decades of research.
Regardless, it’s important to monitor children’s activities and establish appropriate levels of screen time, as well as boundaries for interactions with other gamers. A good rule of thumb is to limit your child’s gaming time to one hour a day, with more flexibility among older children. Another guideline is to ensure games are age-appropriate for a child’s developmental stage. Children should not be introduced to video games until they are over age 2, and that includes games on smartphones. Parents should also pay attention to a child’s general mood and school grades to determine if a healthy balance with gaming has been achieved.
In extreme circumstances, children could develop gaming addictions – these symptoms can include extreme irritability, hallucinations and weight gain. This type of addiction is usually a worst-case scenario. Generally, however, video games can have positive effects, including improvement in mood, relaxation and a reduction in anxiety symptoms.
The best games to engage a child’s mind and help them socialize include role-playing games, simple and multi-player games, and strategic games. Playing video games with your child is also an excellent bonding activity.
If you have concerns about how video games or other screen time affects your child’s health, consult with a pediatrician and limit gaming until a plan of action is established. By taking these steps, you can help ensure that videos games positively impact your child and not hurt them.