If you Google video games and childhood development, you will come across pages and pages and pages of links all shouting out how bad video games are for your child, how they will increase violent thoughts, violent feelings and increase aggression and how they can even stunt brain development.
But what if I told you that exposing your child age appropriate video games in a controlled environment could actually be beneficial for your child?
Don’t believe me? Well Dr Cheryl K. Olsen (*) has written a research paper called “Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development” which was published in the Review Of General Psychology.
Video Games Teach Problem-Solving Skills and Creativity
Video games can help children’s brain development. When my son was a young adolescent, I watched him play Legend of Zelda games. He had to search, negotiate, plan, and try different approaches to advance. Many recent games, such asBakugan: Defenders of the Core, involve planning and problem-solving. “Modding,” the process by which players customize gamer characters’ appearance and develop new game levels, also allows for creative self-expression, deep understanding of game rules and structure, and new ways of highlighting personalities and interests. Video games don’t have to be labeled “educational” to help children learn to make decisions, use strategies, anticipate consequences and express their personalities.
Video Games Inspire Interest in History and Culture
The content of certain video games can encourage kids to read and to research. Video games such as Age of Mythology,Civilization, and Age of Empires may spark a child’s interest in world history, geography, ancient cultures and international relations, especially if parents are alert to opportunities. To quote researchers David Shaffer and James Gee, “When children have parents who help turn Age of Mythology into an island of expertise, tying it to books, Internet sites, museums, and media about mythology, cultures and geography, the children pick up a wide range of complex language, content and connections that serve as preparation for future learning of a highly complex and deep sort.” What’s more, these games often allow children to design and exchange maps or other custom content, helping them acquire creative and technical skills while having fun.
Video Games Help Kids Make Friends
In contrast to their parents, most young kids see video games as a social activity, not an isolating one. Video games create a common ground for young kids to make friends; allow kids to hang out; and provide structured time with friends. In our research, boys were more likely to play video games with a group of friends, either in the same room or online. Plus, young boys said games were a frequent focus for conversation among their peers: One boy revealed that his peers at school mostly talked about “girls and games — the two Gs.” Our research found that children with mild learning disabilities were likely to choose “making new friends” as a reason they played video games.
Video Games Encourage Exercise
In my own research, players (specifically boys) talked about learning new moves from sports video games and then practicing them at the basketball court or on skateboards. Some took up new sports after being introduced to them in video games. As one boy revealed in a research focus group, “In the games that are real, which are mostly the sports games, you see them do amazing plays. If you go outside and try them and keep practicing, you could get better.” Research showed that playing realistic sports video games (excluding tournament fighting) lead to an increased time spent playing sports and exercising in real life.
Video Games Let Kids Share the Joy of Competition
It’s normal and healthy for kids, especially boys, to compete with their peers as they jockey for status and recognition. In my surveys and focus group studies with young teens, “I like to compete with other people and win” was one of the most popular reasons for playing video games — again, especially for boys. Video games are a safe place to express those competitive urges, and can give children who aren’t good at sports a chance to excel.
Video Games Give Kids a Chance to Lead
When children play video games in groups, they often take turns leading and following, depending on who has specific skills needed in that game. In studies by Nick Yee of the Palo Alto Research Center, teens who had played group games online felt they had gained leadership skills such as persuading and motivating others, and mediating disputes. Online multi-player games offer teens a rare chance to participate in, and sometimes lead, a diverse, mixed-age team. And nobody cares how old you are if you can lead the team to victory.
Video Games Provide an Opportunity to Teach
Roughly one-third of the children we studied said they played video games in part because they liked to teach others how to play. As one boy’s dad revealed during research, “Most of the interaction my son has with his buddies is about solving situations within a game. It’s all about how do you go from this place to that place, or collect the certain things that you need, and combine them in ways that are going to help you to succeed.” Some children gain status as the “go-to” kid who knows how to beat the toughest parts of a game. Teaching others builds social and communication skills, as well as patience.
Video Games Bring Parents and Kids Together
Recently, I watched a friend’s 10-year-old daughter teach her how to play Guitar Hero. The game happened to include favorite songs from my friend’s teen and college years, which helped draw her in. The best part was seeing the daughter become an expert and share gaming skills with her mom–a reversal of the usual parent-child roles. Now that some video game systems are friendlier to novice players, it’s increasingly possible to share game time together. Plus, playing a video game side-by-side encourages easy conversation, which in turn may encourage your child to share her problems and triumphs with you.
Skylanders: Spryo’s Adventures is exactly the type of game you want to be playing with your children.
Skylanders is available at all major retailers. To start your collection you will need to purchase the starter pack which includes the portal of power and two characters and is available for 3DS, PC, PS3 & XBOX360. From there you can then purchase the Adventure Packs, which open up new up new worlds as well as single character packs and triply toy packs. The starter packs range in price from R700 to R800 depending on which platform you require, the Adventure Packs and Triple Toy Packs retail for R249 and the single character packs retail for R129. These make the ideal gifts. Mom & Dad buy the starter pack and Granny, Grandpa, Aunties and Uncle’s can add to your kiddies collection with single character packs!
Now for the kicker…. I have one starter pack to give away to one lucky reader. All you need do is tell me what gaming console you have at home and which games you and your family enjoy playing together and then share the competition details on Facebook and Twitter!
And if you’re not the lucky winner, I have a little secret to reveal, Skylander Starter Packs will be on special end of June, just in time for the school holidays and you’ll be able to purchase it at a promo price with a R200 saving!
The winner will be announced on Freebie Friday this week! Good luck!
(*) Cheryl K. Olson, Sc.D. is an expert in health behavior change and healthy child development. She is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the co-author of the book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, and What Parents Can Do.