Does your child spend (or at least want to spend) half of their waking hours watching other people play video games on YouTube? This is more common than you might think. In fact, these videos (called Let’s Plays), are the third most popular type of video on YouTube — second only to “Funny Animals” and “Pranks.” The most popular purveyor of Let’s Plays, PewDiePie, has more than 41 million subscribers and more than 10 billion (yes, you read that right) views, and his mass appeal has even garnered him a book deal. So, if nothing else, your child’s Let’s Play viewing means they probably have something in common with their peers.
But should you let your child watch Let’s Plays?
It’s easy to consider watching Let’s Plays as a massive waste of time. After all, your child is just sitting around watching someone else play a video game. They aren’t even reaping the benefits of solving problems, collaborating with other gamers, or challenging their cognitive capacities, as they do with most video game play. Watching Let’s Plays can be compared to passively watching television, maybe a bit like an adult (such as myself) watches other people play a sport rather than getting out and doing it myself. Most of the current research suggests that your kids will challenge their brains and learn more from video games than from passive television or video viewing.
But it may actually be a bit more complicated. There is compelling data that indicates that educational television can actually benefit a child’s cognitive development, particularly when that media directly engages them (talks to them) in an activity. Educational television can also be enhanced as a learning opportunity when children watch the show along with an adult, in what is called joint media engagement. While I am not aware of any research on Let’s Plays videos in particularly, it would follow that similar results might be found when watching Let’s Plays that have an educational component, especially if parents are involved.
There are two major issues I hear parents complaining about when it comes to Let’s Plays. First, it has always been difficult finding Let’s Plays videos that are appropriate for children. Second, parents are concerned about finding Let’s Plays that offer something more. They want videos that go beyond inane babble or mere walkthroughs. They want Let’s Plays that engage a child’s brain and challenge them to think outside of the box.
That’s where the team at LW4K comes in. We have been working on our own Let’s Play channel — an ever-growing library of videos that are fun and engaging, help your child improve games skills, and most importantly, show them how to make game skills into real world skills. Our Let’s Play videos feature many of the popular video game titles that kids are playing now and identify specific skills such as organization, planning, cognitive flexibility, self-control, and time management. These videos are age appropriate without insulting older kids, and subtly (so as not to take away the fun) help them recognize when they are using an executive functioning skill in game play and how that same skill might help them to get their homework done, keep their room organized, or deal with frustration.
Parents who want to make the LW4K Let’s Plays even more beneficial can watch them together with their kids. I’d suggest starting with some of the shorter videos, because even as interesting as our videos are to kids, many parents find the experience of watching someone else play a video game to be painfully boring. Watching a few of these videos with your child will help you understand how many games practice executive functioning skills, and might help you see how improving game play by watching videos can lead to improvements in classroom and real world skills.
Here are a few of our LW4K Let’s Plays that we recommend to get started with:
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