Is your smartphone moonlighting as your child’s favorite portable gaming device? Has your living room become a zone for video gaming and little else? Advances in technology have made playing video games easier, more portable, and more fun than ever before, so it’s critical to ask – are your kids playing too much?
There are many reasons why kids love video games: they’re an important piece of social currency among their peers, and provide a shared experience that can strengthen friendships and help develop new ones. Mastering a difficult level or mission provides a healthy boost of self-confidence – who hasn’t felt a rush of pride at finally defeating a particularly challenging level boss? Gaming can teach important skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and eye-hand coordination. And for some kids, it can help shape their identity, much like how sports, the arts, and other pursuits have defined many a childhood.
But like so many pleasures, moderation is key. It’s fine for them to spend an hour or so plotting ways to collect the maximum number of stars in a tough race on Super Mario Kart; it’s not okay for them to lose track of how long they’ve been playing. Studies have shown that playing video games excessively can lead to irritability, decreased social activity, and shorter attention spans. The rush that comes from playing a game well is an addicting one, and it’s easy for children to want to skip homework and chores in favor of racking up points on a global scoreboard.
Establishing clear guidelines from the start is the best way to stave off problems. Try instituting a ‘no playing until homework is done’ rule, or ‘chores are done, time for fun’ policy. Making video games a reward will help your kids keep their gaming in perspective and help you keep tabs on how much they’re really playing. Setting time limits can work too, but be aware of how long it takes to complete a mission or level. Location is another tool in your monitoring arsenal; try keeping the console in the living room or other family area to prevent your kids from becoming too isolated during play. Multiplayer games, especially those on the Wii, are an excellent way to turn a solitary effort into one that encourages family bonding.
It may not be as traditional as playing sandlot baseball, but kids develop fond memories of their experiences with video games. Trying a hundred different ways to attack a heavily protected fortress on a screen can keep the smiles coming and even teach kids a thing or two. Being aware of your child’s motivations for playing, and taking steps to keep their play fun and social, will help make their gaming adventures healthier and more rewarding.