Aug 9, 2021

With in-person activities for kids on hold a lot during the past year, video games have taken the place of ways for kids to connect while being socially distanced. Is this a good thing? Well, that depends.

Video gaming has become a popular activity for people of all ages since the 1980s. Many kids spend large amounts of time playing them, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids have more than two hours total of screen time a day. Video gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, and video games have become very sophisticated and realistic. There are multi-player games, which allow kids to play with their friends across different platforms. However, there's always the possibility that kids can connect with not-so-friendly people out there, too.

While some games have educational content, many of the most popular games emphasize negative themes. They promote the killings in war-like scenarios, sometimes criminal behavior, disrespect for the law and other authority figures, sexual exploitation or violence towards women, racial, sexual and gender stereotypes, and foul language and obscene gestures. Examples of video games not acceptable for children because they have these themes include Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Mortal Kombat.

There is growing research on the effects of video games on children. Studies of children exposed to violence have shown that they can become immune or numb to violence, imitate the violence they see and show more aggressive behavior with greater exposure to violence. Studies have also shown that the more realistic and repeated the exposure to violence, the greater the impact on children. Kids can become overly involved and even obsessed with video games, which I've been seeing a lot lately, especially in kids who are doing only online learning.

I have parents often asking me how to get their kids off of video games and back onto their classwork. Unfortunately, I don't have any special tricks. But the best thing is to have them do their classwork where you can see them and know what they are doing. Also, check their grades frequently. And if you see a lot of missing assignments, then it's time to limit the video games until school is caught up. Too much video game can lead to poor social skills, time away from family, school work and other hobbies, lower grades, reading less, exercising less, becoming overweight, and having aggressive thoughts and behaviors. I can say that I have definitely seen and heard from parents that decrease grades and increase weight have been directly correlated to kids staying inside and playing video games over the past year.

So how can you, as a parent, protect your child against these types of video games? First, you can check the Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings to learn about the game's content. Every video game will actually have a label on the front to tell you what type of game it is. If it says M for mature, it's not for your child. Our kids have their system set up so they can't purchase a game, even if it's free, without me getting a notification. They're usually pretty good about saying, "Hey Mom, can I get this game so I can play with my friends?" And if it's not one I approve of, they know it's a hard no. We also have it set up in the living room so I know exactly how much time they're playing, what they're playing, and who they're playing with if it's on a group chat.

You can also play the video games with your child to experience the game's content and know exactly what your child is playing. Set clear rules about the game's content for both playing time in and outside of your home. Like if they go to a friend's house. Strongly warn your children about the potential serious dangers of Internet contacts and relationships while playing online. It's sad, but there are a lot of online predators that will look for children specifically playing video games and can lead them into them meeting in real life. Finally, remember that you are a role model for your child. Make sure the video games you play as an adult are ones you would be okay with your child playing.

If you are concerned as a parent that your child is spending too much time playing video games or your child starts becoming obsessed with aggressive or violent video games, make sure you set some limits. Expect some push back because you're going to get it. But kids actually need and want boundaries, and if you set them, eventually they'll surprise you and they'll appreciate that you do monitor them and that you do set limits. I was floored when both of my boys told me that at different times over the past year, that they approved the limits and the monitoring because they know that it's because of what we prioritize in our house and what our family expectations are.

By being aware of what games are out there, who your child is playing with, and what they care playing, and how long they are playing, you can help your child make appropriate decisions about gaming. Video games are a great outlet for some kids, and it helps them connect with their friends when they can't always play in person or when they're older and play dates aren't cool anymore. Most important thing as a parent is to be aware of what your child is doing while gaming and help reinforce positive behaviors and socialization without giving in to excessive gaming time and inappropriate content.


updated: August 9, 2021
originally published: April 6, 2016

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