Toby is five years old and Gabe is three. They have both been playing video games since before they were two. They even got their own tablets for Christmas last year when they were just two and four. With a game developer dad and a blogger mum it was probably inevitable that they would be early gamers, but should kids play video games at all?
Too much screen time?
There are reports all over the media telling us that too much screen time is damaging our children’s brains, behaviour and health. It’s no wonder that parents worry about the amount of time their kids are spending in front of screens. I know I do and it’s something that I’ve written about before. But is all screen time created equal? Does an hour spent watching TV with little or no interaction have the same effect as an hour spent playing an engaging game on a console, computer or tablet?
According to this article in the Guardian the amount of time spent on screens isn’t really the problem, it’s what children are doing when they’re using them.
The consensus is that screen time, in and of itself, is not harmful – and reasonable restrictions vary greatly, depending on a child’s behaviour and personality. There is little point in obsessing over how many minutes a day your kids are spending with screens. Instead, parents should be doing what they can to ensure that what they’re watching, playing and reading is high-quality, age-appropriate and safe – and joining in wherever possible.
Are video games useful for children?
There is such a huge range of video games available these days. They’ve certainly come a long way since we got our first home computer back in 1982 and played games like Frogger and PacMan! Of course there are lots of games now that I wouldn’t let my two young children play, but there are literally thousands of games with educational content that I am happy to see them playing.
And it’s not just playing educational games that can have benefits. There are plenty of other reasons why playing video games can actually help your child’s development. Strategy games help them to learn problem solving skills; video games can be social; they can improve concentration; they help develop hand eye co-ordination and dexterity.
Despite having a tablet each, Toby and Gabe often play together on one – they talk about the game, help each other, and come up with different ways of solving problems (and I would be lying if I didn’t say they fight a bit too, but that’s siblings!) At three years old Gabe will concentrate on a game on his tablet for longer than anything else. He will play the same thing over and over again until he gets it right. And he has learnt so much from video games – he knows things that have definitely come from games that he wouldn’t know otherwise.
Developing computer literacy with video games
Most of the boys game playing so far has been on their touch screen tablets, but as Toby gets older he is also learning to use a computer. Now he is in Year 1 he has some maths homework to complete online and so is starting to find his way around a keyboard. He sometimes plays old keyboard controlled games with Barry like Jet Set Willy 2.
More recently Toby and Gabe have enjoyed watching their Daddy playing a Zelda game on an old Nintendo GameCube we have. Even though they aren’t actually playing they are so involved in the story and the decisions that need to be made through out the game. They also enjoyed getting involved with Little Dragons Cafe that we recently reviewed.
Toby has shown an interest in wanting to learn how to use the game controller so Barry wrote a little PC game for him called Super T: Arcade Kid. It features a little Toby character which you move up and down to collect coins as the game scrolls along. It’s simple but a really great way to get used to using the controller. You can even buy it yourself (and pay what you feel) if you’d like to give it a try with your kids!
The final verdict
I think the most important thing with young children and video games is that you always make sure you know what they’re are playing. We have a subscription to Amazon Kids Unlimited which they play on their Fire tablets. It allows me to restrict their access to content according to their age. They’re happy getting to play loads of different games and I’m happy because I know they can’t access anything inappropriate. We always keep an eye on their behaviour when they are playing too – we’ve actually stopped them playing some games (usually ones involving fighting) because it obviously affects their behaviour, and not in a good way.
On balance I think there’s absolutely no reason why kids shouldn’t play video games, and in fact plenty of reasons that they should! As parents we just need to be aware of what they’re playing, and I’m all too aware that this will probably be harder the older my two get. If video games are something that Toby and Gabe enjoy, and something that they can learn from playing, then I definitely won’t be stopping them any time soon.
How about your children? Do they play video games or are they something you keep them away from? I’d love to hear your views on this so please do leave me a comment.
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