Ah yes, the eternal debate of screen time versus outside time. As with all things in life, a fine balance needs to be met. Are your kids missing anything if they don't get any screen time? Possibly. Are video games a good thing for kids? I will outline quite a bit of evidence that shows they are. We also need to discuss some of the downsides of course.
We all know that basement-dweller that does nothing but game day and night. There's no way I'd encourage that as part of a healthy lifestyle, but video games for kids can be an amazing tool for teaching in practical and social applications. Even if you aren't necessarily a 'gamer' yourself, I'm sure your kids will revel in telling you how things are going in their favorite Minecraft world. In this day and age, any chance to connect should be encouraged.
How Much Is Too Much?
My point of view has been made clear, but can you have too much of a good thing? The answer to that is 'of course'! The question then becomes 'How much is too much?' At what point do video games turn from an ally into an enemy? The magic number seems to cap out at around 3 hours. Children that play video games for more than 3 hours per day tend to see those negative side effects that are discussed so often.
Benefits of Gaming for Kids
According to an Oxford University study "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."
There are notable differences in the benefits based on the genre of game. FPS games are really popular right now, first-person shooters can cultivate more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing, and enhanced mental rotation abilities. Puzzle games are an extremely wide genre that can increase brain elasticity and encourage problem solving.
Are There Bad Video Games Out There?
Make no mistake, there are definitely some games that have heavy adult themes and shouldn't be anywhere near children. Grand Theft Auto is the most prominent example I can think of, and you'd be shocked how many of my younger cousins are able to whip out a copy in attempts to impress me with their gaming prowess. I don't approve of the content so I inform their parents.
Fighting games and shooters with gratuitous amounts of gore are out there. Research doesn't show that playing these games increase violent tendencies in children in any significant way. My spouse is particularly fond of Killing Floor 2. 600 hours have gone into this exceedingly violent game and you better believe my children have caught a glimpse of it more than once, but they remain unaffected.
I say that with the caveat that all kids are different and some might react to video games differently than the average child. I let my nephew get in on a few games of Super Smash Bros Ultimate for the Switch and the results were unexpected. After losing a string of matches in a row the controller went flying across the room and I sent him home in the blink of an eye. That controller was sweaty... His feet were probably sweaty too. Thinking back I shouldn't have sent him home stinking to high heaven... I could've given him a quick spritz of grape scented foot deodorizer spray or bubblegum scented foot deodorizer spray to combat the sour smell and maybe the sour attitude as well.
Had he been exposed more, I think he could've taken the losses in stride. Video games can teach social/emotional skills, self-regulation, executive function, problem-solving, impulse control, and so much more. Can kids learn these skills outside of a screen? Absolutely! But as society becomes more and more integrated with screens everywhere you look I think acclimating kids to be comfortable and capable of dealing with these devices is becoming a big part of modern parenting.
Gaming Caves Are Not Allowed
If you do decide to allow your kids to participate in video games I will stress that whatever device you provide needs to be in a common room of the house. Not only will this allow you to monitor the amount and content of video games your kids are consuming, it will also encourage interaction. Our Nintendo Switch is a family console and even if it does have a portable mode, stealing away to the room with it is a quick way to lose the privilege.
Online Interactions Not Rated By The ESRB
The ESRB is effective. You'll see this warning plastered everywhere before you try to take a game online and most people skip right past it but it's something that should be considered. Plenty of games out there are removing communication and while it's frustrating as an adult trying to communicate with a team it is an absolute godsend when deciding to let the little ones get some gaming in.
Getting taunted with an emote is one thing but it's a different ballgame entirely when some anonymous teenager with a microphone lets loose a string of expletives that would make a sailor blush. Consider any game that you let your child play extremely carefully and make sure to do your homework before exposing them to anything that you're unsure about. We've got a lot more to say regarding internet safety for kids as well!
Video games are beneficial for kids and the research backs that statement up! This comes with a certain amount of responsibility for both you and your up-and-coming gamer. You will need to research and make your own call on whether or not this new-fangled 'Fortnite' is age appropriate for your child or not. Screen time might not seem ideal compared to outside time but I tend to enjoy vetting the content my kids will consume and easily monitoring what is being done and discussed. It's great to have the kids out of the house, but there are 23 other non-gaming hours in the day.