A new study from Oxford University has found that playing a video game for a short amount of time could have a positive impact on children.
Participants in the study were asked to quantify the amount of time they spent playing video games on a typical school day. They were then asked to rate themselves on a number of factors such as ‘satisfaction with their lives,’ and ‘how well they got on with their peers.’
They found that children who spent less than an hour a day playing video games were more adjusted than children that did not play video games at all.
Experimental psychologist Dr Andrew Przybylski who led the study believes that there could be a number of reasons behind the finding.
"Being engaged in video games may give children a common language. And for someone who is not part of this conversation, this might end up cutting the young person off," he told the BBC.
Dr Przybylski notes that guidelines that put limits on the way children engage with video games should take this into account.
The research found that while girls and boys showed a different preference for computer based games and console based games (boys tended towards the latter and girls towards the former) the positive effects of gaming did not vary.
Similarly, the type of games being played didn’t change the effect as Dr Przybylski explains: “Many combat video games are also action video games, there is a body of research that suggests that these kinds of games may be positively linked to perceptual skills. Games designed explicitly for education purposes are pretty hit-or-miss.”
Amanda, a mum of two boys says that she isn’t surprised by the results of the study because she has observed many positive effects that gaming has had on her sons.
“My 9-year-old son, who has always had a short attention span, finds video games stimulating and challenging. It allows him to be creative and inventive,” she explains.
But mother of two and early childhood educator, Catherine says that despite limiting the amount of time her sons, 8 and 14, play video games they can still be quite “tired and grumpy” after playing. “They are fixated on getting back to the game and anything else you ask is a hassle,” she explains.
Child psychologist Jocelyn Brewer has a keen interest in the way that children engage with video games. She takes a pragmatic view. “As with most things it’s about balance – the duration, frequency, intensity and context that gaming occurs will predict whether it’s positive or negative,” she explains.
Brewer believes that many of the negative issues associated with gaming start when control or limits are absent. “Control on the amount of time a game is played (no rules or limits set by carers), that games are not age appropriate are played (think the 8-year-old playing GTA-5 all weekend because the parents don’t know what it really is or don’t have the power to say no) or they play alone and without their local peers (even though they may make ‘friends’ online playing alongside a real human increases the benefits,” she explains.
On the whole Brewer believes that video games can be good for children, however there are some caveats. “When we give kids pro-social, problem-solving, cognitive-skill building games (pitched at the right developmental level for the child) and they play for moderated amounts of time with clear parental/adult controls and they play alongside their peers, games can be very beneficial,” she says.
For parents keen on striking the right balance, Brewer offers the following tips:
- Find alternative games to play. Try here: http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/ there are over 120 games to try and you can even submit game reviews. They are generally more narrative based and can be used to teach a range of issues.
- Know what your kids are playing – take responsibility over knowing this the way you would know what they were eating/drinking or watching at the movies. Don’t play the ‘kids and technology I don’t understand it, it’s all so tricky’ card – get upskilled. Visit ACCM’s ‘know before you load’ page
- Play alongside your kids. They love gaming, right? Find out why, what excites them, how do they feel when they play, what is so great about it? Get into their world and appreciate what they appreciate – it builds their verbal and emotional skills by being able to talk about their likes and experiences (and helps parents understand the fascination and skills required).
- Use technology as a reward not a right. Have clear boundaries about when (NOT the hour before sleep), where (NOT in the bedroom) and what (age/developmentally appropriate) kids can play. You don’t need to turn off the wifi to set limits - take the devices charger away and ask kids to meter and plan out their use of the device to save the battery (think the financial literacy parallel of not spending all your weekly pocket money on the first day).
- Get a balance. Don’t forsake the offline for the online. No one is able to learn to catch a ball using an iPad. Yet. More traditional activities such as board games can still be engaging (when they feature combinations of great game design elements).