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Is Playing Video Games Good or Bad for Children?

“You know what’s really exciting about video games is you don’t just interact with the game physically—you’re not just moving your hand on a joystick, but you’re asked to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally as well. You’re not just watching the characters on screen; you’re becoming those characters.” – Nina Huntemann, Game Over

Video games have become an integral part of popular culture, as well as one of the largest industries in the United States. They are a topic of extensive discussion, especially in the media. For more than a decade now, a vast majority of children in the United States engage in playing video games during childhood. Results of a nationally representative study of U.S. teenagers show us that 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games [1].

Most young kids see video games as a social activity, rather than an isolating one, and they believe video games are a great way to spend time with their peers or even make new friends. While children often don’t see anything wrong with their engagement in video games, and like them because they are fun, exciting, and challenging, parents may worry about the potential negative effects they may have. Some parents may prefer that their children invest their time in other activities out of concern that video games could encourage violence and procrastination, which in turn could lead to neglect of school commitments, and even the development of addiction. In the aftermath of a violent incident or a display of antisocial behavior, the media often links the behavior to video-game use, and paints them as the cause, sometimes regardless of any correlation, which is why parents in turn focus more attention on the potential dangers of video games rather than their benefits. In this way, media can add fuel to the fire without really tackling the issue, leading parents to forget that games are today a normal part of modern childhood and to start believing their children shouldn’t be playing games at all, which can create conflict between them.

On the flip side, some psychologists suggest that video games can actually have many benefits, especially bearing in mind that “the nature of these games has changed dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic, and social in nature” [1, 2]. So, in order to understand the impact video games have on children’s development, we need to look at both the positive and the negative effects of these games.

Benefits of Video Games

Problem solving and decision-making skills

Games usually include some puzzles or other problem situations that players need to solve in order to get to the next level. Playing a game such as The Incredible Machine, Machinarium, Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, makes for an excellent workout for children’s minds as they have to use their logic skills and creativity in order to achieve a goal; they have to search, plan, and experiment with different approaches in order to solve puzzles and deal with other problems. Some scientists believe that video games could be used as training tools to develop quicker decision-making. They showed that video-games players had heightened sensitivity towards their environment and were able to make correct decisions more quickly than people who didn’t play games [3].

Hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills

Some games require the real-world players to keep track of the position of a character, where they are heading and at what speed, at the same time as they must keep an eye on diverse stimuli. The player has to take into account all these factors and then coordinate the brain’s interpretation with the movement of his hands. In order to accomplish all of this, the player requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination and the utilization of visual-spatial ability. Research suggests that people who play video games have better visual-spatial attention skills and are more successful in visual processing of images than non-gamers [5,6]. Meta-analysis studies show that, by playing video games, spatial skills can be acquired in a relatively short time, and that the results are often comparable to formal training designed to enhance the same skills [7]. This effect is well-known, as, nowadays, pilots and surgeons are being trained on video games (you can check out the game which is a validated training tool for laparoscopic motor skills, right here).

Multitasking skills

Being able to effectively and quickly switch between two or more tasks is an important skill in life. It’s been suggested that video games may enhance one’s ability to apprehend and track many shifting variables and manage multiple objectives. Some researchers report that children who played video games performed significantly better compared to other children on a version of the multiple-object tracking task [4]. This multitasking ability can especially be seen in strategy games where a player must take care of lots of different buildings and units and can encounter many unexpected surprises, which forces them to be flexible and change tactics quickly and accordingly.

Negative Effects of Video Games on Children

Aggression in Children

It’s a widespread concern that violent video games promote aggression, reduce prosocial behavior, increase impulsivity, and have a negative effect on children’s mood. Parents are afraid that this is yet another form of media, besides TV shows, movies, comics, etc., where children can encounter violence daily and become desensitized to it. By now, much research has been conducted showing that playing violent video games increases aggression in children, leading to a lack of empathy and prosocial behavior [8]. These studies are usually conducted by having children play an aggressive game (e.g. Grand Theft Auto) and assessing their aggression afterwards. On the other hand, there is also a lot of research that provided evidence of video games having only immediate and short-term effects on aggression, or even that they have the opposite effect – they make children less aggressive, and that, in the long term, video games are not promoting or causing aggression in players in their offline lives [9].

It is still unclear if playing aggressive games really does cause the player to become aggressive. Some would argue that it’s not that games that are making people aggressive, it’s just that gamers who already have aggressive tendencies are more attracted to these kinds of games. If you’re a parent and you have a concern that your child is showing aggressive behavior and is unwilling to talk to you about it, you might want to consider talking with a parent with a similar problem, or even try to find someone who has expertise in the subject.

Gaming Addiction

There is no doubt that video games can indeed be highly addictive, as they can lead to behavioral dependency characterized by an excessive or compulsive use of computer or video games, which can interfere with one’s everyday life.

While it may be controversial, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” as a disorder in June, 2018. In order for a diagnosis to be assigned, the behavioral pattern should be evident over a period of at least 12 months, and should result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Gaming Disorder is manifested by [10]:

  1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

On the other hand, the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to determine whether the condition is a unique mental disorder, but they are subjecting gaming to further research (along with caffeine-use disorder and several others) [11].

We can also talk about the consequences that investing too much time in playing games can have on some of the important aspects of children’s lives.

Poor academic performance. This is one of the negative consequences of extended and reckless engagement in video games. As with any activity, if children are devoting a lot of their time to playing video games, their school performance can be affected as they’ll have less time for their school obligations. There’s an obvious correlation between these two.

Adverse effects on health. Video games also have an indirect effect on physical health, if children are choosing video games over physical activity (here you can read our take on why children should take up sports). Children who are too invested in games can easily skip meals or even sleep in order to play the games they like.

What’s the Verdict? Are Video Games Good or Bad?

Video games are neither good nor bad. Technically, video games are just games with a visual component, and can be more social and distracting due to constant availability. They can be used as powerful teaching and skill-honing tools but can also be over-used and have an overwhelming effect on a child’s life if they frequently get angry and frustrated while playing games. It all comes down to appropriate and moderate use. Video games are fun and can sometimes enrich a person’s life and create happiness, but they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for living your own life outside a video game.

Young children especially have problems with this line, so parents need to help them by providing understanding, support, and guidance while also imposing rules when necessary. We’ll now take a look at just how parents can help children maximize the benefits of video games while minimizing their potential harm.

Parents as Mediators in Children’s Gaming Life

– Take the time to get to know your children’s habits around video games, but also do the research and know about the content and rating of the video games they play. Try talking with them about their feelings and observations about the games they play in order to understand what drives them to play them.

– Set limits on how long and how often your children can play games, and make sure they do it in their spare time, after finishing their homework or chores around the house. Monitor your child’s video game consumption while also showing respect and a willingness to understand their playing time. Modern online games often don’t have a pause button, and currently many popular games are matches played with other people, in real time. So try talking with your child to set up more appropriate restrictions; for example, it might be more appropriate to make a deal and say “1 game” instead of “30 minutes”.

– Find a game you can play together, as this can be a good bonding activity for the whole family. If they know more about a particular game than you, you can act as their pupil and see how good they are in the role of teacher. Here you can find some games to play with children of different ages.

– Try to use video games to increase children’s school engagement by motivating them to learn through games. There is a large number of educational games to choose from which can help with learning, math, history, etc. Having fun while studying makes children persistent and less likely to quit, as some video games are capable of making difficult subjects fun and easy to understand. If you’re unsure about mixing technology and education, you should definitely read our article on this subject.

– If you’re afraid that your child is addicted to playing video games, try to help them recognize their compulsive behavior. Encourage them not to feel guilty or ashamed and be patient with them. If you have trouble communicating how you feel about them excessively playing games, don’t be embarrassed or scared to ask for help. Here on Nobel Coaching & Tutoring, we have amazing Coaches who can help you with this.

References:

  1. Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66.
  2. Ferguson, C. J., & Olson, C. K. (2013). Friends, fun, frustration and fantasy: Child motivations for video game play. Motivation and Emotion, 37(1), 154-164.
  3. Green, C. S., Pouget, A., & Bavelier, D. (2010). Improved probabilistic inference as a general learning mechanism with action video games. Current Biology, 20(17), 1573-1579.
  4. Trick, L. M., Jaspers-Fayer, F., & Sethi, N. (2005). Multiple-object tracking in children: The “Catch the Spies” task. Cognitive Development, 20(3), 373-387.
  5. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2006). Effect of action video games on the spatial distribution of visuospatial attention. Journal of experimental psychology: Human perception and performance, 32(6), 1465.
  6. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2007). Action-video-game experience alters the spatial resolution of vision. Psychological science, 18(1), 88-94.
  7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201402/are-there-benefits-in-playing-video-games
  8. Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., … & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151.
  9. Kühn, S., Kugler, D. T., Schmalen, K., Weichenberger, M., Witt, C., & Gallinat, J. (2018). Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study. Molecular psychiatry, 1.
  10. https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/1448597234
  11. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/internet-gaming

Benefits and Risks of Social Media

Children nowadays have a way of connecting and interacting continuously with friends. They use various electronic gadgets, play games with people from other countries, have live face-to-face conversations via Skype, etc. It’s hard to even imagine a childhood without the internet and social media.

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 89% of teenagers reported using at least one social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. At that time, the most popular was Facebook, with 71% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 reported using it [1]. In a more recent study conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in December of 2016, Instagram and Snapchat led, with about 75% of teens reported using them, while Facebook usage declined slightly to 66%. However, the use of social media in general was on the rise, as 94% of teens age 13-17 reported using them [2].

 

Benefits of Social Media

1. Making Social Connections

Social media provide a convenient way for children to connect with their peers and keep in touch with friends they already spend time within the offline world. This mutual, constant availability can lead to the strengthening of these relationships – they have someone they can share their problems with and ask for advice, or just chat with if they’re feeling bored. Furthermore, they use social media to explore their interests and connect with their community, which helps them further develop existing relationships with like-minded peers. Researchers from the Netherlands found that children between the ages of 11 and 14 who use social media report a higher level of friendship quality. Even though this study focused on their version of Facebook, authors believe their findings can be generalized to users of other social media beyond the Netherlands [3].

Social media also makes it easier for children to make new friends, as they don’t have to deal with the stress that comes from meeting new people face-to-face. For example, they don’t have to worry about being faced with an awkward silence when they feel pressure to speak but aren’t quite sure what they should say next. Texting doesn’t always require an immediate response, so children with less confidence in their social skills can take the time to come up with an adequate answer and reply with less pressure than in a face-to-face situation. In a longitudinal study, researchers concluded that instant messaging increases the quality of existing friendships because adolescents feel less inhibited and disclose their inner thoughts and feelings to one another earlier on, which enhances the relationship [4].

One of the undisputable benefits of social media is the ability to overcome geographical barriers. Using social media to keep in touch with friends who live in a different city, state, or country is a great way of ensuring a relationship doesn’t suffer because of distance. Two kids from Argentina and Iceland can communicate online just as easily as two kids who live in the same neighborhood. And, social media can help bring together diverse groups of children. Having contact and communicating with children of a diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious background can be the key to developing tolerance and respect for different groups of people.

2. A Helpful Tool for Dealing with Problems

There are many ways in which children can communicate online while staying anonymous, i.e. joining Reddit. Shy children, who often feel socially awkward, might use this controlled environment to express themselves and speak their mind without the fear of negative offline consequences or of being stigmatized. This gradually leads to the development of higher self-esteem. On social media, it’s easier to find someone who’s got the same problems and with whom one can talk and be listened to. Reading about the experiences of children who are dealing with the same issues as you are is an invaluable basis for evaluating your own problems.

The internet in general is a place where children can easily access online information about their health concerns, or, for example, a proper diet. Health resources are increasingly available to youth online, but social media can provide even more health information, as users share medical information online with each other [5, 6]. Also, children with chronic illnesses can join supportive networks of people with similar conditions. People with diabetes, for example, often create online communities, which allows them to connect to one another and to members of the healthcare community [7].

3. A Useful Resource in Education

Students often use social media to share information about school assignments, as well as to organize their time in accordance with their homework. Facebook groups, for example, present a common mode of communication and for the exchange of ideas. There are even schools that embrace social media as a teaching tool and find that it’s a necessary resource in education. However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to using technology and social media in the context of education. If you want to learn more about that as well as how children can best use the internet for their educational benefit, you should take a look at our article on this topic.

 

Potential Risks of Social Media

1. Social Media Addiction

All those likes, comments, pictures, texts, etc. can be overwhelming for children. As previously noted, children can reap many benefits from social media, especially in the area of socialization. On the other hand, constantly being online and on-call for friends can inevitably lead to sleep deprivation, which can cause further problems. It’s important not to become dependent on quick replies and a blizzard of instant messaging. If children are spending all that time on social media they’re probably neglecting other commitments at home and school. This also leaves them with less time for those necessary and irreplaceable face-to-face interactions with others.

2. The Burden of Comparisons with  Idealized Depictions of Others

Despite the upside of having a large amount of information available online regarding health and other issues, there’s clearly a downside. Much of what children might see on social media is a calculated and idealized picture someone is trying to present. Most people don’t post photos of themselves on Instagram when they’re sad or angry. You usually only see happy moments, such as them enjoying a party, or going to the movies with lots of friends, which seems to suggest they have a perfect, worry-free life. When children see the idealized life someone they follow on social media appears to be leading, they might ask, “What am I doing wrong?” and “Why is my life not like that?”, and feel like failures.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not hard to stumble upon complete disinformation online regarding an issue that’s important to children. Sometimes it’s challenging for even the most experienced users to tell if a source is accurate or if there’s a hidden agenda behind the information.

3. The Dangers of Disinhibition and Cyberbullying

Improper use of social media and a lack of restraint in online interactions can lead to the development of behavior patterns that aren’t commonly a part of life in the offline world. Anonymity is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it can help children overcome shyness and social anxiety, but it can also stimulate unwanted reactions, such as hostile or aggressive online behavior, potentially lead to cyberbullying. Bullying and cyberbullying have some elements in common, such as aggression, power imbalance, and the repetition of this type of behavior [8]. Researchers believe we should look at these two as distinct phenomena. Someone who is cyberbullying doesn’t have to be physically stronger than the victim, and usually doesn’t get to see the effect his or her behavior had on the victim. Another difference is in accessibility of the victim. Whereas bullying mostly happens at school, cyberbullying can be engaged in at any time and reach a much wider audience, which makes it potentially even more dangerous [8].

4. Invasion of Privacy

From the moment children start using social media and spending time on the internet, they start making a digital footprint. This can have ramifications for their future personal or professional life. One part of the problem is sharing too much information, which can be used by advertisers or third parties. About 90% of boys and girls share their real names and photos of themselves on social media. Most of them also share their birthdate, interests, city where they live, school name, etc. [9] We’re also witnessing people revealing personal information on Facebook posts, sharing their personal photos on Instagram daily, or indicating their political views on Twitter.

Besides the negative consequences of posting too much information about themselves online, potential threats for children also include security attacks such as hacking, malware, or even identity theft. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are able to answer fewer than half of the questions when asked about their knowledge of cybersecurity [10]. Although this research was conducted on adults, we have no reason to believe children would be any more informed. This makes children vulnerable to scams and invasions of privacy, especially if they didn’t get adequate education on these topics.

 

What Can Parents Do?

Let’s face it – most children nowadays can’t imagine life without the internet. As we’ve seen, social media is a helpful tool in many aspects of children’s lives, when used properly. On the other hand, if used recklessly, they can cause more harm than good. With this in mind, we’ll now go over a couple of practices that can help parents ensure their children use social media to their advantage.

– If your children are spending too much time on Facebook or another social media app, you should help them find some other activity to fill in their time. Try talking to them and seeing if they’re interested in taking up a hobby, or a sport.

– Try to set an example for your children and don’t use your cell phone too often. As a matter of fact, don’t use it at all in front of them, especially not for endlessly scrolling through social media, reading the news, etc. Use the free time you have together to connect and bond. Make a rule for everyone in your household – for example, that no one should use their phone during a meal or while having family time in the living room [11]. This will help them realize that the outside world is more important than the online one, and hopefully, they’ll understand that they aren’t going to miss anything important if they don’t reply to a text message right away.

Don’t invade their privacy! One study suggests it may not be the best strategy to intervene in your children’s use of social media [12]. A better approach for children’s online safety implies not necessarily intervening, but mediating their online behavior. For example, you should occasionally monitor the information they post online and talk to them about it, but you shouldn’t read their private conversations or use parental monitoring software to block content that contains online risks. If you merely reduce their exposure to online risks, they won’t be able to learn how to effectively cope with them. The suggested approach is to provide children with more autonomy to take risks, as well as for parents to take corrective action to mitigate those risks [12].

– Make sure you help your children learn not to evaluate themselves in comparison with an idealized image someone presented on social media. Let them know that they should be what they feel and think they should be, and not be driven by their perception of unrealistic depictions of others.

– You should suggest your children make their profiles private on social media such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so that their posts are only visible to their friends. Educate your children to cautiously and more securely access the online world. Think about enrolling them in one of the many interesting upcoming projects here at Nobel, such as the one concerned with teaching children about networking, firewalls, ports & internet security, etc.

 

References:

1. Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Perrin, A., Stepler, R., Rainie, H., & Parker, K. (2015). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015 (pp. 04-09). Pew Research Center [Internet & American Life Project].

2. http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/Instagram-and-Snapchat-are-Most-Popular-Social-Networks-for-Teens.aspx

3. Antheunis, M. L., Schouten, A. P., & Krahmer, E. (2016). The role of social networking sites in early adolescents’ social lives. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(3), 348-371.

4. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). The effects of instant messaging on the quality of adolescents’ existing friendships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 79-97.

5. O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.

6. Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4).

7. Cotter, A. P., Durant, N., Agne, A. A., & Cherrington, A. L. (2014). Internet interventions to support lifestyle modification for diabetes management: a systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, 28(2), 243-251.

8. Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth.

9. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/what-teens-share-on-social-media/

10. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/22/what-the-public-knows-about-cybersecurity/

11. https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/

12. Wisniewski, P., Jia, H., Xu, H., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2015, February). Preventative vs. reactive: How parental mediation influences teens’ social media privacy behaviors. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 302-316). ACM.

 

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