Video Games, Screen Time and Children

As you may have come across elsewhere in this blog already, video gaming is something that I enjoy. This is especially so if we are talking about arcade-style racing games which give that sense of speed without all of the handling problems of real sports cars. Perhaps I’m harking back to the days before the children came along when video games were played on big consoles at the amusements rather than at home? But that begs the question of how powerful video games are in the domestic environment, particularly when kids are involved. Okay, so some of the violent games that are available on platforms like Sony’s Playstation are definitely not for children, but what effect does the average video game have on minors? This question was the subject of a recent BBC drama featuring Daniel Radcliffe, which explored the $1 billion Grand Theft Auto franchise and its effect on teenagers. Not a bad dramatisation of courtroom shenanigans, but I’m more interested in video games, younger children and good parenting.

According to a study conducted by the University of Oxford, children who play video games for a reasonable amount of time – perhaps up to an hour a day – were found to be less prone to hyperactivity, more sociable and generally happier than those who didn’t have access to such games at all. The study’s author, Andrew Przybylski, stated that video gaming provided a number of cognitive challenges, opportunities for exploration as well as the ability to socialise with friends, depending on the particular game. However, the report also went on to say that gaming for more than three hours a day lead to detrimental effects.

That said, surely gaming platforms by the likes Nintendo or Sony afford a reasonably safe environment for kids to explore digital media. What about browser-based gaming? There are so many flash game sites out there that restricting children to age-appropriate content is virtually impossible if they use one of these. Instead, it is better to go for brands that have a trusted reputation for children’s entertainment and restrict them to those websites. Marvel Kids, CBBC and CBeebies, for younger ones, all have some high-quality games which mix entertaining game play with puzzles and logic-testing brain work. In particular, the games at Marvel Kids, have some great graphics for a free-to-play game site. And you can leave your children to explore the site’s content without worrying about them straying into adult-only areas of the internet.

Ultimately, video games are not the brain-rotting media they are often made out to be. So long as parents take a keen interest in what their kids are doing, they can even make for a positive outcome developmentally. Surely, we just need to play with out kids and engage with them whether they are enjoying some screen time or taking part in any other sort of activity?