When video games first appeared on the landscape, there was not much debate as to whether or not they were a worthy use of a person’s time, especially children. Parents had the mindset that gaming took away from important concepts like schoolwork and mental advancement through reading. It was hard for the older generation to embrace this new and confusing hobby.
Now, video games are so commonplace, it would be difficult to find anyone in developed countries, and some even in the “third world” who haven’t heard of mobile apps like Angry Birds, or old-school consoles like the original NES (Nintendo). Video games on phones, consoles, and computers are as much a part of the world as cell phones and organized religion.
Games for All Ages
Video games were originally marketed to children and teens of a very distinct age range. Now games transcend all ages. But there is still some debate on how young is too young to introduce children into the world of gaming. Why? Because researchers and experts still are at odds with the reality of how games help children but spend more time looking for deficits that can affect children negatively.
The reality is very different than the perception. The original video games were exciting and new and tailored to the interests of a younger generation and the “experts” of the time were antagonistic to what they didn’t understand; fear of entropy. Fortunately, new groups are doing independent studies and have come to some incredible conclusions. Findings supporting mental growth and acuity, increased motor skills and reflexes, and even the ability to concentrate on multiple things efficiently, have not only been postulated but proven.
And there are many more unexpected outcomes to video gameplay:
- Memory games enhance both short and long term memory retention and growth
- Puzzle games build problem-solving skills and with gradual difficulty increases, help muscle memory and reasoning
- MMO games allow even the most ardent introvert the opportunity to thrive in a social environment
- Because games not only operate on the screen, but by using a mouse and keyboard, controller, or phone buttons, hand-eye coordination is gained and evolved with the challenges of the game
- Patience, virtue, empathy, and even sportsmanship are taught in games across genres, all of which are important to shape a child into a useful member of society
And these are only a few of the positive aspects of gameplay.
Picking the Right Game For Your Child
Fortunately, games have ratings and the ratings have age brackets that let you know what is suitable. They are similar to the MPAA ratings for movies. Games can range from Everybody Can Play to Adults Only. And by everybody – we mean even you young children – can be included in many of the more youth-friendly titles.
Kids as young as 3 can play lots of titles across platforms, many geared just for them, some that are a little advanced if you want to push them to succeed. They might get frustrated, but that is part of the learning experience. We all rise and fall, we learn how to fail, but also learn how to win with dignity and pride, as well as humility.
If you want to give your child the benefits of gaming, the earlier you get them involved the better. Kids’ brains are growing like a sponge, a muscle that is desperate to grow and flex. When they have basic motor functions, start them off with something easy, or let them watch you play, offering them the controller from time to time until they are comfortable with the concept.
Gaming Time Limitations
Allowing your kids to play games on whichever platform you have chosen is a great first step to giving them a new and exciting tool for personal development, but there is such a thing as too much play. The flicker of the screen, the sounds, and even extensive controller jamming can have an adverse effect if not monitored and limited.
You must have a set window in which they can play, keeping it to only a couple of hours a day. Items like outdoor play, homework, family time and a fixed sleep schedule are too important to let them fall aside to endless gaming. Make rules for your home that give your child a specific timeframe for play, then when the time is up, shut it down and insist they do something else.
Gaming has its benefits, but it cannot encompass your child’s life entirely. As they grow up, the gaming world will become more real than the world outside the game, giving them a false sense of control over their life which is unrealistic. You have to insist they play with kids they know in real life, interact with real people to gain higher quality social skills and learn social cues, and recognize that some mistakes cannot be fixed just by hitting the restart button.
The Evolution Within
While some teens still love the games they played as younger children, tastes and desires evolve as your child ages and matures. The simple puzzles and easy to defeat bosses of their adolescence will give them little thrills, minimal gratification, and inspire boredom. That is why you must encourage new and more tricky gaming ideas once you notice they have outgrown the games of the past.
It will be pretty obvious. They throw in a game they have beaten dozens of times, and you can see little joy on their face. They are just going through the motions. And this is the path to accepting mediocrity. Parents want their children to thrive, and with gaming as your tool, you would be wise to watch the signs of malaise, then act by giving them a new gaming experience to reinvigorate their love of the challenge.
Online Gaming and Trolls
MMO gaming, online battles, and other web gaming options are more popular today than ever. If you want your child to interact with new people from the safety of home, games like Fortnite and World of Warcraft offer tricky scenarios as well as group battle campaigns, giving the player a sense of comradery, fair play, and a team mentality that focuses on the preservation of the group.
There are two problems with online gaming that you must know. Trolls are real, they are bitter, hateful, and can cause emotional distress. Online trolls are keyboard warriors who in life are epic cowards, so they feel powerful from the safety of their online personas. If you come across a troll, it will be obvious because they will bully you. Ignore them and move away from the abuse.
The second issue is many online players are so passionate about their characters and the level hierarchy, they spend way more time online than their child will be allowed, so they will have incredible talent and skill, even in a new game. This can be very frustrating. The recourse is to find a lobby that fits your skill level. Every game has a few for newbies, intermediate, and expert level players. Choose wisely.
Finger on the Pulse
There are some games out there that can harm your child. Horror games that have more gore than a Saw movie, action games with the side effect of allowing children to become numb to death and the taking of life, and even some raunchy games involving lots of sexual innuendos. It is always a good idea to maintain a dialogue with your children, feeling them out and understanding how their gaming is going, weighing that against how they are evolving as people.
If you miss the signs, you will kick yourself and no one wants to feel out of touch with their child. Watch for changes that mirror their games. Talk to them when something concerns you. And let them know they can always come to you for advice. Kids will be kids. You are letting them be themselves and communication is just part of the journey.
It is every parent’s prerogative to make your own rules and decisions where childhood gaming is involved, but as you weigh the options, we hope you will keep an open mind. There is a lot of data to support the upsides of gaming. Ultimately, it is up to you. Do your research, make an informed choice, but please, don’t dismiss it out of hand because you don’t understand it. This is a chance for you to learn something new as well.
We hope these suggestions were helpful, and if you have any insights to share, we would love to hear from you.