With Proper Limits, Video Games Can Offer Benefits
Source: Tween Parent Staff
It may be hard to believe, but the video game industry is now over 30 years old, so the "should we let them...how much should we let them...what should we let them play" line of questioning isn't new at all. Among the preteen population, on average, girls play video games more than 5 hours a week and boys play 13 hours a week. According to BusinessWeek Online, the U.S. video game market is expected to grow to $46.5 billion by 2010. Based on those projections, the video game business isn't going away anytime soon!
Like many other controversial subjects, there are multiple schools of thought regarding the impact of video games on preteens. We probably don't need research to tell us that extensive exposure to ultra-violent game content probably isn't a a great idea! But, there is a silver lining to seeing those little zombie-like faces that we experience when our children are engaged in "the media trance"!
On the plus side, our preteens can gain practice in fine motor, spatial, and visual attention skills. Games can be entertaining and fun; they can release tension and relieve boredom. Some games provide practice in problem solving and logic. On top of that, in a world with many demands that are both in and out of our control, video games can offer the feeling of a sense of mastery. In fact, a recent study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice and conducted by Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner of the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The study looked at the effects of violent video games on 1,200 middle-school-age children. They state in their book, Grand Theft Childhood, "In fact, much of the information in the popular press about the effects of violent video games is wrong. For most kids and most parents," they write, "the bottom-line results of our research can be summed up in a single word: relax."
Taken to extremes, however, other sources agree that the amount of time spent playing video games can have a negative correlation with academic performance; and, playing violent games can have a positive correlation with antisocial and aggressive behavior. Interesting though, that boys who don't play video games at all were more likely to engage in bullying and other antisocial behaviors. While there is no proof of causality, it may be because video games are such an important part of socializing for that age, that these boys are, by definition, "abnormal."
Experts seem to agree that the risks associated with video gaming can be mitigated with a helping of parental intervention...with a few thoughtful limits, video games can be a fine entertainment option. The two most important variables to consider: 1) the amount of time children play video games, and 2) the content of the games they play.
Determine an Appropriate Amount of Time
Regarding the time factor, good common sense, limit setting and sticking to your plan are important. When you consider that the average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a "screen" is 37 hours per week, perhaps parents should consider taking a larger, holistic view of the media in the mix -- video games, TV, DVDs, Computers, etc. Consider working out a plan with your child and gaining their commitment. You might want to share your concerns so that your tween understands why it's important.
Evaluate the Content
When it comes to the content of the video games that your child wants to engage in, a great source to start with is the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), "a non-profit, self-regulatory body that independently assigns ratings, enforces advertising guidelines, and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices for the interactive entertainment software industry." esrb.org
Avoid or Minimize Extreme Violence
Parents should be aware that not all video games are equal and that ratings do not tell the entire story. According to Cheryl Olson, the game Manhunt and the game Postal "are two games that no child should ever go near." And, she views DefJam Vendetta, a T(een)-rated game as having a very negative portrayal of women.
Stay Involved, Join the Fun
Playing a video game with your tween is perhaps the best way to get involved and see exactly what type of games your child is most interested in playing. And, playing together can offer other benefits:
Kids love being able to beat their parents at something. And beat you they will!
Parents may be able to have meaningful conversation while playing; believe it or not, children find it much easier to talk to a parent if they aren't facing them.
If a parent finds something that concerns them in the game, a child may listen more thoughtfully than if the parent just issues a blanket refusal to allow future playing.
One suggestion that comes up on virtually every expert's list to avoid is allowing (game) consoles in your child's bedroom. You should be able to see what they're doing. Knowing that you could walk by at any moment will ensure that they stick with their end of bargain!
The bottom line...in moderation and with limits...let the games begin!
Connect with other parents and share your thoughts about video games:
Additional information on this topic:
Video Game Ratings Board Adds "Summaries"
Video Game Addiction...Tips to Tame the Kid Who's Hooked
Parent's Guide to Game Ratings
Video Games: Cons and Pros
Author Reveals "The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games"
Book that may be of interest:
Grand Theft Childhood, by Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner