Does your child play too many computer games?
We often have conversations with parents who are worried their child plays too many computer games. Is it as bad as it seems? Believe it or not, playing computer games (within limits!) has some well-researched benefits.
I was reminded of some of these the other day when watching my seven-year-old nephew spend many hours playing a pirate-themed game (‘See of Thieves’). As a result, he is now obsessed with everything pirate. A predilection for pirates is nothing particularly new for children, particularly boys, for whom, along with dinosaurs, they seem to have always had a particularly captivating hold. What was interesting, though, was seeing HOW he played the game, and observing what he did afterwards.
Far from being a solitary activity, he was spending much of his game time playing with others, including his Dad. Some might cringe at the idea of this being ‘quality time’ but the adventures they went on together were amazing, and they spent much time together manning their ship, working together to sail it, maintain it and explore. Playing games isn’t every parent’s cup of tea, but if you can find some common interests with children, it can be a great way of sharing in their world.
Even if you’re not interested in playing games, there’s great options for them collaborating with others. Watching him spend even more time on Minecraft the next day, his pirate-themed play had extended into creating a highly detailed replica of a ‘Sloop’ (which, he taught me was one of the smallest boats they typically used, as well as educating me on all the others up to Galleons). He then collaborated with his sister to create a virtual world they could both play in. (Although it must be said, I left before I saw the interaction between his pirate world and her ‘virtual petting zoo’ – it may not have been pretty!)
He also asked for more pirate paraphernalia for Christmas, and after then reading several pirate-themed books has now become quite the expert on the historical accuracy of who pirates really were, the details of the different types of ships they sailed on, and much more.
OK, so having a technical & scientific background, I’m quite aware that it’s poor practice to try to use a single example like this to prove a point, but there’s several well-researched studies that support some of these benefits.
One Oxford University study that was done recently, has shown that children who play video games for up to an hour a day are less hyperactive, more social and happier than those who don't play at all.
"Those who played video games for less than an hour ... were associated with the highest levels of sociability and were most likely to say they were satisfied with their lives. They also appeared to have fewer friendship and emotional problems and reported less hyperactivity than the other groups."
An interesting finding was that this trend only held well up to around 3 hours a day. I guess it’s understandable though – you’d hardly expect playing games non-stop would make you the most sociable of children.
Other studies have shown positive effects on brain power, specifically in multi-tasking and in a type of vision called "contrast sensitivity," that is, the ability to see subtle shades of grey. If you’re wondering what the use of this is, it’s just the type of skill that allows you to drive well in fog. Perhaps your child doesn’t do a lot of this now, but my guess is they will be doing this quite a bit in just a few short years. If your child will be safer on the road when they get their license, perhaps a little bit of frustration now at their screen time is a price worth paying?