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The Fault in Fun: Are Video Games Helping or Hurting Your Children?

23 September, 2022


          
            The Fault in Fun: Are Video Games Helping or Hurting Your Children? - Inspirely | STEAM Education

Video games have long been one of the biggest causes of headaches for parents, and game addiction is one of the most prominent issues affecting youth worldwide. But is gaming truly a bad thing for your children - and how do you change the narrative so you can turn their relationship with video games into a healthy, positive one?

Video games - if you're a parent, chances are that you've bumped into this obstacle at one point or another while raising your child. In a modern society that's as dominated by technology and the Internet as ours is, video games are unavoidable as one of the biggest and most prominent forms of media to youth everywhere. These games are interactive, fun, and, most of the time, an easy and convenient source of day-to-day entertainment - but they've also been a huge subject of controversial debate for their addictive and oftentimes violent nature.

It's easy for young children to get absorbed in video games. Many of the most popular games today are specifically designed by companies to get players hooked and returning to the screen again and again. Many believe that this not only can prove bothersome for bored, impressionable children, but also distracting, aggravating, and, in extreme cases, dangerous to the mind and body. And it's because of this that video games are usually so shunned in parental circles.

But is it really that black and white? Are video games truly the kind of soul-sucking evil that some parents believe they are to their kids? And how can you, as a parent, prevent unhealthy addiction in your child, so that they can change their relationship with video games into a positive and even educational one? We're here to answer that.

What's so bad about video games, exactly?

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Here in Canada, the amount of kids aged 6 to 17 who regularly play video games comes out to a whopping 89 percent. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the mandatory indoors quarantine  that came with it, more children are picking up video games than ever before - and unfortunately for them, research has consistently proven that once you've been hooked on it, gaming is hard to quit.

Video games make use of a combination of mental stimulation, instant gratification through virtual rewards, and the release of a chemical called dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone that gives your brain a sense of pleasure. Most of them are designed to be carefully manipulative so as to maximize profits for the companies that create them. It's led to the World Health Organization classifying gaming disorder as an official mental health condition in 2019, and as of recently, an estimated 3 - 4% of gamers worldwide suffer from an addiction.

Video games don't just boil down to addiction, either. The impacts and consequences of that addiction can be bad enough to seriously affect children's day-to-day lives.

An addiction can lead to self-isolation. It's associated with things like declining academic performance, decreased social interaction, erratic emotions, and also the neglect of basic needs like food, hygiene, and sleep. Some studies have even shown that more violent games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have the potential to lead to an uptick in aggressive behavior in children, though the relationship between virtual and real-life violence is still being questioned.

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All of these consequences have the potential of causing serious negative impacts on a child's physical, mental, and social development and well-being, and most parents are more than well aware of this, which is why the subject of video games has been so consistently widely controversial. 

What about the pros? Are there any benefits to gaming?

On the flip side, many experts believe that video games aren't all bad when it comes to raising children! Psychologists and scientists alike have done many extensive studies that prove that playing games can actually change the way a young brain works. If done right, engaging regularly in active, immersive gameplay has the capability to improve cognitive control, hand-eye coordination, reward processing, and attention span in children.

What's more, specific types of games can have the potential of developing specific abilities and skills as well. Take the classic game The Sims for example: it can teach children about planning, resource management, and multitasking while they're having fun playing with their sims.

A restaurant simulator likeOvercooked can help your child think on their feet and adapt flexibly to fast-paced situations, and a strategy game like Bloons Tower Defense or Cut the Rope can develop critical thinking, problem solving, and logic skills. Most RPGs can challenge children too by letting them practice their observation and situational awareness to solve puzzles and complete quests.

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And while there are definitely kids who prefer to isolate themselves with single-player games, a lot of them see video gaming as a social experience as well. Team-based gameplay can encourage children to interact with each other - either virtually or in real life - and foster a collaborative, synergistic environment for friendships to form and develop.

So no, video games aren't necessarily all bad. You just have to make sure to exercise a certain degree of care and attention when it comes to supervising your child's gaming, so that they can learn through having fun in a healthy, productive way instead of getting themselves addicted through a negative one. 

So how can parents do what they can to prevent an unhealthy relationship with video games?

When your child is picking up a controller or a mouse and booting up their favourite game every single day, it's dangerously easy for their occasional hobby to snowball into an addiction. That's why it's so important for parents to integrate a reasonable amount of control and discipline into their children's relationship with gaming.

As a parent, you obviously don't want your child to get addicted to a game to the point where their grades drop and they start neglecting their basic needs! You want them to focus solely on the positive aspects of gaming, and you'd like for them to make use of their hobby in the best and most educational way possible. 

So, without further ado, here are a few ever-useful things to keep in mind when trying to encourage a healthy relationship with video games for your kids.

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5 tips to create a healthy, positive gaming experience for your kids

#1: Know to manage their gaming time.

The number one thing to keep an eye on is the amount of time that your child spends on their games. If they're playing for less than an hour to an hour a day just for fun, that should be more than fine, but if they're sitting in front of the computer or TV for hours on end, that's where it could become a problem. Make sure your child is spending an appropriate amount of time on video games to relax after they've already finished their homework and chores for the day. 

#2: Keep an eye on the games they play.

As proven in more than a few professional studies, most video games are virtually harmless when it comes to real-life behavior, but it's still a good idea to know just which ones your child is spending time on to keep their gaming experience a positive one. There are quite a few games with mature content like blood or horror that could negatively affect your child's well-being, so try to remember to check them over for age-appropriate themes to keep your young ones safe! 

#3: Don't be overly restricting or controlling.

There's no need to ban video games in the house altogether unless your child is on the verge of addiction or having serious issues with self-control. Some healthy gaming is more than okay - it's a source of fun stress relief, and it can even help teach your child some skills that are applicable in real life! Just know that issuing extremely strict rules and bans will only tempt your child into breaking them. Healthy moderation is helpful; unhealthy control is less so. 

#4: Give them the chance to engage in more educational activities.

If you feel like your child is spending more time on video games than necessary, you can try to introduce them to activities that are just as fun but also more educational. Many children pick up video games out of boredom when they have nothing else to engage their minds, so why not try signing them up for some online STEAM programs focused on challenging youth through a hands-on approach to education? This way, your children can learn while gaining a fun experience through the same digital screen they use for gaming.

#5: Turn video games into a social experience.

Like we mentioned earlier, video games don't have to be ones that force your child to become a shut-in in their room and isolate themselves away from the people in their life. Games like Just Dance, Mario Kart, and Wii Sports can act as a fun bonding experience for the whole family!

By turning video games into a social event where you can connect and communicate with your children, you can encourage their relationship with gaming to develop down a path that actively allows them to grow and flourish - and experiencing that as a parent, of course, is the most fun of all.

At Inspirely | STEAM Education, we believe in developing vibrant and valuable experiences for children age 6 - 14 and their families. For more parent resources and kid-friendly STEAM programs, feel free to explore our website and check out our carefully developed selection of educational classes and camps dedicated to motivating young minds. 

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