Parents routinely ask child care professionals if video games are OK for their kids. They are rightfully confused about the impact of 8-10 hours of daily digital media on their children and expect pediatricians, child psychologists, and child psychiatrists to be experts in the field. As with many other topics, the answer is not only nuanced but may depend on what parents read or what TV network they watch).
There is no question that video games, as well as other technologies, can have a positive and negative impact on the lives of 21st century children. While our team at LearningWorks for Kids disagree with those who believe that all screen time is bad for children, there are areas of genuine concern, such as excessive amounts of screen time, desensitization to violence, and the potential for addictive behavior. After having worked with thousands of families in connection with this topic and followed the research, I can offer the following guidelines:
- All digital content is not created equal: there are some great video games (and other digital media), and there are some not-so-great games.
- Video games can often be cognitively challenging and offer an opportunity for learning a variety of soft and academic skills.
- Most kids benefit from a modest amount of digital play and screen time.
- Some kids are highly susceptible to overdoing screen time, and a portion of these kids can become addicted to screen time.
- Facility with video games and other digital media is crucial to 21st century education, work, and communication skills.
- Excessive screen time can either cause or contribute to mental and physical health issues, shorter attention spans, poor academic performance, and a narrowing of interests.
- Access to inappropriate and violent content is a legitimate concern, particularly for younger children.
- Parents need to be more involved with their kids’ use of digital media.
- The potential benefits of digital media for learning, communication, creativity, problem solving, and enjoyment outweigh the problems.
- It’s all about balance: 21st century kids need a healthy “Play Diet” in which they engage in physical, social, creative, unstructured, and digital play on a daily basis.
The following links provide an introduction to some of the best research and articles to help you understand the positive and negative impacts of video games and technology on children. Click on the links to read the original research or summaries.
Research: Video Games Have Positive Effects on Children
- Improve Processing Speed (Green and Bavelier, 2009)
This article describes how action video games can improve varying types of processing speed.
- Improve Working Memory (Klingberg et al., 2007)
This article elaborates on how certain video games can enhance the working memory of children.
- Increase Pro-Social Behavior in Children (Gentile et al., 2009)
This article shows how the pro-social behavior in children is strengthened by gaming.
- Improve Social Involvement (Ferguson, 2010)
This article delves into the ways that video games are beneficial for children’s social skills.
- Build brain regions Kühn and colleagues study of Tetris (Kühn, Gleich, Lorenz, Lindenberger, and Gallinat, 2013)
This article explains how the pros of the classic video game Tetris can positively build certain regions of the brain.
- Improve Brain Flexibility with StarCraft (Shankland, 2013)
This article concerns StarCraft and how it can potentially improve the flexibility and versatility of the brain.
- Rayman Raving Rabbids Improves Reading Fluency (Owen, 2013)
This article focuses on the video game Rayman’s Raving Rabbids and how its game play improves children’s reading speed and efficiency.
Research: Video Games Have Negative Effects on Children
- Increasing Levels of Obesity with Screen-based Time, Primarily Television (Harvard Report; 2018)
This article looks at how excessive gaming can lead to children becoming overweight and developing obesity.
- Poor psychological adjustment in kids who play more than 3 hours a day (American Academy of Pediatrics Report, 2014)
This article talks about the negative impact on children’s brains when they play video games for more than 3 hours a day.
- Violence and Video Games (Bushman, 2013)
This article discusses how video-game violence has had a significant impact on children and society today.
- Ignoring other activities due to 7 hours 38 minutes a day of digital-media time (Kaiser, Lamontagne, Singh, and Palosky, 2010)
This article reveals how children tend to ignore other recommended activities, resulting in excessive amounts of gaming.
- Video game addiction 3 – 8% cited-DSM-V category Internet Gaming Disorder (Vitelli, 2013)
This article illustrates the increase in video game addiction and how this addiction is now considered a psychological disorder in the DSM-5.