Computer games have grown to become a massive part of popular culture. According to a 2021 survey by Statista, US teens between the ages of 13 and 18 spend 55 minutes playing video games daily. This popularity among children has made computer games a topic of widespread discussion, with many parents concerning themselves with the effects of video games on youth might be. This blog post highlights those effects on children, categorized into advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Computer Games for Children
Below are some of the positive impacts of video games on children. Some of them are surprising but all research-backed.
- Improves their reading skills. Playing on a computer is sitting still and moving your eyes. Reading is a vital life skill, and computer games improve it. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan found that computer gaming improves attention and peripheral attention skills, and both are essential for reading. “Attention is an important part of successful reading,” explained Shaylyn Kress, who led the study. “Your eyes need to systematically scan a page to process each word and sentence correctly. Therefore, activities which may impact attentional processes, such as video games, may also have an impact on reading as well.”
- Teaches them problem-solving. Many video games are designed to force children to search, negotiate and improvise their way to a conclusion, usually the next level. The next level gets more complex with more obstacles with each level they unlock. Whenever the child fails to surmount any obstacles, they instantly know that they’ve made a mistake. It forces them to quickly take stock of what they did before that didn’t work and develop something that might work for the next obstacle. The more the child solves these problems, the more versatile their problem-solving becomes.
- Increases coordination and working memory. Most video games require mental and physical processes that typically involve hand control and eye movement. A study published in the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience found that people who played video games as children showed more significant improvements in their working memory than those who did not, suggesting that video games can have long-lasting benefits for cognition. Dr. Marc Palaus, the lead author of the study, explains further, “People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite no longer playing, performed better with the working memory tasks, which require mentally holding and manipulating information to get a result.” Gaming is such a powerful tool for cognitive training.
- Promotes collaboration and social connection. Most video games allow users to invite other users for collective video gaming. During these games, players collaborate or compete against each other, allowing them to form connections. “In spite of the stereotype of the socially awkward pale gamer, games are a good way to socially connect,” says research psychologist Rachel Kowert. “Video games allow us to maintain friendship bonds in a multifaceted way.” In fact, gamers seem to talk about games with other gamers more than readers do with other readers. According to a survey by National Literacy Trust, 3 in 4 (76.3%) young people who play video games say they talk to their friends about video games, compared to only 3 in 10 (29.4%) who discuss books.
- Breeds persistence. Video games are simulations in which users know they have the space to do what they want. Users don’t have to worry about any irreversible consequences if they fail to progress through the game. When they try and fail, they get immediate feedback based on their efforts and approach. Naturally, the child would keep trying and adjusting their approach the more they fail. Over time, this establishes a belief system that all they have to do is modify their processes and apply more effort to enhance performance.
Disadvantages of Computer Games on Children
Below are some of the negative effects of video games on children.
- They could face health problems. Video games are generally designed to keep users in their seats, fixated on their screens. This could lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which can cause several health problems. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “a single session of video gameplay in healthy male adolescents is associated with an increased food intake, regardless of appetite sensations.” What leads to this increased food intake is the stress involved in playing video games for too long. Or the malfunctioning of the signals that tell the body when it’s full. When this malfunctioning happens, the child just keeps eating even when they’re full. This can lead to obesity. Other possible health problems include carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, tennis elbow, and gamer’s thumb, which occurs from the inflammation of the moving thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when a nerve in the wrist is inflamed, leading to pain and numbness. With trigger finger, the finger gets stuck in a folded position due to inflammation, similar to tennis elbow.
- They could become socially disconnected. Multiple players can play a video game, but some children prefer to isolate themselves and play alone. If this continues over time, it can decrease interest in other areas, such as homework, outdoor activities, sports, reading, and even family functions like dinner. This is less likely to happen, though. Most gamers enjoy playing with friends and family more rather than alone.
- Their concentration could suffer. Excessively playing video games can overstimulate the nervous system, causing an overload of the visual and auditory sensory systems. This overstimulation occurs due to the overly bright colors and the quick movements on the screen. Symptoms manifest in the child’s inability to concentrate on one thing because they’re too busy trying to concentrate on everything at once.
Children and Video Games: The Big Picture
Video games refuse neat categorization. “The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects, including the amount they are play. The content of each game, what you have to pay attention to on the screen. And how you control the motions,” said Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “This means that games are not ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could.”
Therefore, it’s your job as a parent to check the content of the computer games your child plays and regulate how much time they spend playing those games. This would help position your child to benefit positively from playing video games.