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Putting a Stop to the Stupor: The Effects of Video Games on Children

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2159_49079613243_5273_n-1We live every day in the hustle and bustle of a busy society. With parents often working full time or beyond full-time hours, kids being shuffled here and there, a house to maintain, meals to cook, family and friends to keep up with, etc. – life gets just plain exhausting.

We also live in a society that provides an easy solution to getting a little “R&R” time away from the children. Countless parents are handing over their cell phones, iPads and computers – even buying their children their own iPads – because this action results in one much desired phenomenon: the stupor. For however long the games last, your child is entranced by the bright colorful screen, and you have a chunk of time free to compose yourself, check your own emails or apps, talk with other adults or to simply rest.

The same happens with gaming consoles. Parents often have these devices hooked up on a separate television, be it in the child’s room or in the basement, where they can’t fully supervise what their children are downloading, viewing or playing. Therefore, the children can be exposed to all kinds of things the parent is not necessarily aware of.

Well, we hate to “ruin a good thing”… but electronic gaming is not the best solution for distracting your children.

Now – video games are not all bad. A limited amount of gameplay on apps or devices that are aimed at education has been found to boost vocabulary and mathematical ability, increase fine motor skills and spatial recognition, increase one’s ability to think quickly and help with visual acuity and awareness. The games can have real benefits and have been found to develop the “muscle” of the brain, just as reading and education can.

However, the problems with video games, when played frequently, are numerous. Children who spend a great deal of time playing video games can become socially isolated: spending less time interacting with friends, playing sports, doing homework, reading and connecting with family. Each of these activities is very important in the healthy development of a child, and parents should ensure the child is getting a good balance of each.

Frequent video game playing can also lead to a variety of health problems. Though obesity is the most known and leading consequence of frequent game playing, children also experience muscular, postural and skeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, nerve compression or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Video games can be highly addictive. A study from the National Institute for Media and Family found that children’s addiction to video games increased their levels of depression, anxiety, social phobia and decreased school performance. Children who frequently play video games have also been found to be more impulsive and have increased problems with paying attention.

The above consequences above can occur with frequent play of any electronic game. However, the consequences can be even more severe when children are allowed to play video games that include violence.

There have been many university studies done on this topic, all with similar findings. For example, an experiment published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology followed one group of children who were given a non-violent video game and another group was given a violent video game. The children given the violent video game were found to be much more likely to act aggressively or violently when playing in a group, mimicking their video game character.

And, as we’ve talked about before, video games that contain an online component, especially violent online dialogue, can open up all sorts of scary doors to your child. Parents can lose track of who their child is interacting with, what they are learning and the language they pick up.

So, what should you do? Again, we want to reiterate that we’re not encouraging parents to remove video games from their children altogether. We simply advise that you monitor this like any other online / electronic media, and limit your child’s interaction with the devices. We encourage you to make sure your child has a healthy balance of time spent interacting with friends and family, playing sports or with toys / games, reading and completing homework, and that hours are not spent staring at a screen.

Should you have any questions or concerns about your child’s gaming behavior and require advice or assistance, don’t hesitate to Contact Us at Stenzel Clinical Services. We are here to help, and will be happy to work with you and your child to better balance time and activities within the home.