Do you allow your child to play video games? Is it harmful to allow a child to have game time? The answer may surprise you. Recent research has shown that in limited doses, playing video games can actually be beneficial for children. There are positive effects of playing games.
Dr. Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester reports the following findings: Our research shows that about five to eight hours of action video game play per week for about seven to 10 weeks in young adults (18-25 years old) improves: vision – how well one sees in terms of being able to perceive dim signals, for example the small print on prescription bottles and seeing the car ahead of you when driving in fog; attention – in terms of being able to focus on the information of interest for your task and ignore irrelevant or possibly distracting information; some aspects of cognition – benefits have been suggested in visual short-term memory or switching between tasks; and decision making – making faster decisions but no less accurate decision.
“It is rare to find an activity that leads to benefits in so many domains and so our interest is understanding how we can leverage the beneficial effects of action video games for educational purposes or health purposes. Indeed, my interest is in how we can help people learn better, how we can force the brain to be more plastic and adaptable,” said Dr. Daphne.
Scott, father of four, has noticed that his three-year-old has benefited from playing a skateboard game in his Itouch. “His hand and eye coordination is great,” said Scott, whose wife, Michelle, agreed that some game time is okay, as long as it's in moderation.
“There are some educational video games that teach kids how to recognize shapes, colors, etc. I also have great memories playing video games with my siblings and my friends growing up,” said Michelle. “For example I remember playing Mario Brothers, so when it came out for the Wii I got it and it brought back many memories. Another benefit is that now with some video games we have more “active” video games like Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution. It helps when sometimes the weather is not great outside and the kids are not just sitting.”
While Jessica keeps her two children active in sports and activities, she's also okay with some limited game time, especially if it's the “right” game. “Take for example, Little Big Planet, what a great use of the child's imagination. How cool for kids to be able to bring their imagination to life right in front of them, ” said Jessica.
Of note, is that video games are not all equal. The University of Rochester report stated: “For the skills studies so far, action games lead to greater benefits than other entertainment games. By studying the impact of various types of video games on brain function, we aim to determine which aspects of performance can be altered by experience and to characterize the factors that favor the transfer of learning. Behavioral investigations are combined with brain imaging techniques to allow a more direct characterization of the brain systems that are modified by video game playing.”
A study by Iowa State University reported that children who exceed the recommended two hours of daily screen time per day are almost twice as likely to have attention problems, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend parents limit a child's screen time to one or two hours daily.
Dr. Daphne agrees that setting limits are key, but what those limits are may depend on the child and the family. “The kids love our research, but it is certainly not a license to indulge in video game play all day. Keeping a balanced way of life is key. Sports, academic activities, friendships and extra-curricular activities all have their place. If some extra-curricular activities involve video game play, that's ok. However, parents need to ensure video game play does not displace other activities so much that it becomes unhealthy,” she said.
Dr. Daphne continued: “Some individuals will be able to play several hours a day and keep a healthy lifestyle, while others show unhealthy behaviors from just playing a half hour. Age is an important factor. For example, children under two are unlikely to benefit from media exposure such as TV or video games. But we also know age is not the whole story. Some individuals are more likely to become negatively affected by game play than others. This is where it is of the utmost importance that parents keep a close eye on their children and how video game play affects them.”