Video Games: to Play or Not to Play?

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.

7 thoughts on “Video Games: to Play or Not to Play?

  1. Kalyarin

    There was only one paragraph I greatly disagreed with.

    “the video game industry is hoping to cultivate life-long gamers” -Every- industry wants you to use their products from birth to death. With the exception of prophylactics. Why should the gaming industry be any different?

    The whole coloring thing. First off, by coloring virtually you’re saving paper and crayons. Also I’d argue that coloring virtually is something lots of people do every day and make a living doing it. Graphic Designers. I’m sure there are dozens of other jobs that could be said to at least benefit greatly from, if not outright require, “coloring virtually” skills.

    1. Bruce

      Coloring with crayons is one of the best ways for children to develop hand-eye coordination. I have no problem with virtual coloring, but I believe it should wait until after the child has learned how to “color within the lines.”

      1. Janine

        Coloring pages do have their merit. Coloring within the lines, as you put it, provides structure and limitations, helping children develop and hone their fine-motor skills.

        However, I would much rather advocate for children to draw, paint, color, create freely rather than restrict their creativity to a specific picture. In terms of coloring pages, the only choice a child has is what color crayon to choose, instead of expressing their ideas through art. Far too often, coloring pages are given to children as time-fillers or something to keep them quiet rather than actually helping their fine motor skills develop.

        Thanks for the feedback, Bruce!

  2. Janine

    Great comment! Thanks for your feedback.

    The fact is that so many games are now replacing real-life activities. There are interactive games for tennis, bowling, golf, baseball, etc. They mimic the real activities, but vastly reduce the benefits of doing them in real life. Is it better than sitting on the couch all day and doing nothing? Yes. But, give me the choice between a bowling video game and bowling in real life and I’ll bowl in real life every time. Would the children make the same choice?

    I won’t disagree that virtual coloring has applications later in life. But, to be honest, so does playing video games. There are video game testers, video game developers, Game Masters for online computer games, military tactical exercises and surgical simulations, just to name a few. But, video games on the whole are becoming a large part of our society’s free time, both in children and adults. I would be genuinely curious to survey adults to see how many people went into their career field because of the video games that they played. it would be interesting to see the results.

    Let’s keep the conversation going. Anyone and everyone is welcome to weigh in. What’s *your* opinion? I want to hear it!

  3. Becky

    I have to side with the Janine.
    We never purchased a video gaming system for our children. Up until they were about 16, had no cable tv, internet or cell phones. They are in high school and college now and are both very computer literate. Without videos in the house, we played board games, went outside and played, colored (with crayons) and watched cartoons on Saturday mornings.
    I worry that parents bulk at this topic because they too really enjoy video games. Game systems are entertainment for most family members in the household. I teach 5 to 6 year olds and I hear children tell me about the new games and systems that they get as gifts, rewards and the parents pay a lot of money for them. Videos are played in the car, in the bedroom and even at dinner time. What a relief for the parents that are too busy or tired to entertain their children the ‘old fashioned way’.I hope that parents will, once again, talk to children, teach them life skills and how to make conversation with others.
    Over the years in the classroom, I see a lack in social skills and manners with children that play by themselves on game systems. Why do they need manners, social skills or playmates? An Avatar will play with you, no matter.

  4. 4cforchildren Post author

    I hope that parents will, once again, talk to children, teach them life skills and how to make conversation with others.

    We hope so, too, Becky! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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