I’ll say it right from the beginning: I don’t like video games. It’s strange that I feel that way because my fiancé plays video and computer games like they’re going out of style, most of my friends are gamer geeks and I come from the so-called “Nintendo generation.” I’ve heard nostalgic stories of first video game experiences, been told of young relatives “killing” avatars at early ages (6 months is the earliest I’ve heard) and had intense discussions with people on the subject of video games. It seems everyone has an opinion about it. Personally, my family didn’t own a video game console until I was in middle school. It wasn’t part of my childhood and I think that’s why it’s not really part of my life as an adult.
How young is too young? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends *zero* hours of screen time for children under 2 years of age, which includes TV, videos, computer and video games. Dr. Michael Rich from the Children’s Hospital in Boston shares in the Columbus Dispatch article “Videos Won’t Make Your Baby Smarter” that babies learn in three different ways: by manipulating their physical environment, through face-to-face interaction and through open-ended problem solving opportunities. Watching TV or playing video games does very little to stimulate those methods of learning. I think it’s pretty safe to say under 2 years old is too young.
What about over 2 years old? Did you know there is an EC (Early Childhood) rating for video games, promoted as appropriate for children ages 3 and older? I didn’t until very recently, but there’s a market for it. According to a study released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 92 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-17 play video games. On any given day, 30 percent of all children aged 2-18 will play a video game and those children spend just over an hour (64 minutes) playing on average.
In Michel Marriott’s New York Times article, “Weaned on Video Games,” he reported that the video game industry is hoping to cultivate life-long gamers. They have made game consoles that use bright colors as well as large buttons and games such as, get this, virtual coloring. That’s right, I said VIRTUAL coloring. Do we really need a game where children color virtually? Are paper and crayons defective? Eric Levin, an executive from Techno Source, noted that young children “see their older brothers or older sisters or even their parents playing video games and they want to do what they do.”
There are some positives to video gaming. There has been research that suggests that when video and computer games are played at an early age, these experiences form a foundation for greater computer literacy. There are also studies that indicate children who play interactive video and computer games when they are young improve hand/eye coordination, spatial skills and visual attention.
But what about the negatives, like inhibited social development? Children who play video games are also sedentary rather than active, leading to unhealthy weights. In school-aged children, a survey showed that one in four recognized that their video game playing, at times, interferes with homework and academic performance.
What it boils down to is that children need guidance from adults, whether it’s their parents or caregivers. They shouldn’t spend too much time playing video or computer games no matter how old they are or what the positives may be. In fact, many of the positives can be achieved by doing other activities like sports, hobbies, or coloring with paper and crayons. Everything in moderation. Adults should model and provide a variety of activities for children to do. When they include video games they should do so in the same way that oils and sweets should be included in our diets: sparingly.