For years it has been believed that video games are the source of all evil when it comes to children. These games turn our children into violent creatures. In addition, they are number one (or two) reason for the epidemic of child obesity in America.
This approach is gradually changing. More and more parents and educators are beginning to understand that video games are actually not the main culprit for which we can blame our children’s bad habits or misbehavior. On the contrary, video games have their own cognitive and social merits, and they are not the cause of children’s overweight.
Do video games contribute to violent and aggressive behavior?
Conventional wisdom says that children, especially young ones, tend to fully identify with violent characters depicted in video games. These children learn that it is legitimate to solve problems with their peers in the real world in the same violent manner they have been solved in the game.
Another argument is that constant exposure to aggressive themes in video games lowers sensitivity to violent images. Consequently, as time goes by, the brain becomes accustomed to these images and may demand more and more stimuli to keep excited and thrilled.
Academic studies portray a different picture
Academic research carried out in recent years has found no correlation between violent video games and violent behavior among children. On the contrary, it was found that video games may have beneficial effect on players as they enable them to release pressure and express themselves in ways they cannot in the real world. In fact, video games empower children by giving them a feeling of self-control.
On a cognitive level, it was found that children were able to acquire better solving problem skills. From a social point of view, network games helped them develop interactions with their peers they haven’t had before.
A comprehensive study carried out in Texas A&M University in 2010 examined the effect of short and long-term exposure to video games on aggressive behavior, hostile emotions, and depression. The researchers gave young people a frustrating task. Then they were ordered to play violent video games in several different experimental and control groups. The results explicitly showed that the games had no effect on aggressive behavior.
Based on the findings, the researchers suggested that computer games provide a positive channel for expressing and managing feelings, especially feelings of frustration, disappointment, and loss of control.
Another interesting study published in the academic journal Computers & Education in 2013 found that young people playing video games frequently showed greater perseverance and spent more time trying to solve difficult problems.
Do video games impair our Children’s cognitive abilities?
Many parents think that video games (as opposed to reading books) disrupt their children mental development and negatively affect their ability to concentrate, imagine and think in abstract terms. Once again, research shows otherwise.
An important study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance examined how video games affect brain structure, function and behavior. It was found that video games increase gamers’ ability to focus and divide their attention. Regions in their brain responsible for attention have been shown to operate more effectively compared to non-gamers.
Researchers also found evidence that video games increased the size of the brain regions involved in spatial perception. For example, it could be seen that the right hippocampus tends to be larger among skilled gamers.
Will computer games make our children fatter?
This is another myth: children that devote plenty of their time to video games are doomed to become couch potatoes. In reality, there is no evidence that supports this myth.
A study published in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior a few years ago sought to determine whether it is true that children who spend large amounts of time playing computer games suffer from poor physical fitness, obesity and lack of social skills.
It was found that children who devoted more than 35 hours a week to video games did not weigh more than their peers who spent less than 10 hours a week playing the same games. Moreover, heavy gamers had no particular social problems.
A healthy approach to video games – useful tips for parents
The following guidelines will help you minimize the potential harmful effect of violent video games on your children.
1) Don’t let your child play games that are not fit for his age.
2) Be actively involved in your child gaming activity. Play with him and make sure he understands the difference between what is going on in the game and the real world.
3) Encourage your child to play nonviolent games (such as logic or strategy games)
4) Set ground rules for playing the computer and stick to these rules. The aim of these rules is to make certain that playing video games won’t negatively affect the child’s daily routine and duties.
5) Remember that violent contents appear not only in video games but also on TV, in the newspapers and sometimes even in your child’s close environment.
The article was contributed by Filicia Powell, a kindergarten teacher from Austin, TX who strongly supports what she defines as ‘digital education’ – enhancing children’s’ cognitive abilities and imparting social skills through video games and online activities.