When my husband told me that video games are good for hand-eye coordination (and therefore improving his career skills), I figured he was just vying for a Wii (or was it an Xbox? I’m pretty clueless on the difference). I didn’t buy it, literally or figuratively. Because I still can’t tie a sailor’s knot despite my hours of playing Pong and Pac Man back in-the-day. And yet, yet, despite that skepticism on the positive value of playing video games, I allow my kids to have daily access to their iPods. Is there guilt? Yes. Do I allow them more time than I intend? Oh, yes. Hypocrisy, which just spawns more guilt.
Great. I’ve heard too much MInecraft lingo and just used the word spawn.
It being summer, ironically, my kids have gotten more gaming time than normal, even on those gorgeous early summer days when they should be outside running silly. And I’ll admit, any time of year, it’s hard to take those nifty little ‘i”-devices away, especially as my kids’ behavior tanks big-time when I do: they get punchy, can’t transition to a different activity, and can’t seem to handle the “real” version of reality.
Which, of course, makes me want to toss those iPods into the trash, never to be seen again.
Which, of course, is ironic because only a few moments earlier I was basking in the time I had to write or make dinner without interruption.
So I find myself conflicted on the whole idea of video games and turned to Google. I skimmed articles. And read abstracts. And was overwhelmed by the veritable wealth of info on the effects video games have on kids. Some of it was down-to-earth and readable, some of it tabloid (think the UK’s Daily Mail) and the rest of it academic. There are the benefits to playing video games, like development of hand-eye coordination (so my husband was being legit), perseverance and social skills (the last touted by parenting educator Roselind Wiseman…now that got my attention). But there are also the negative aspects, such as increased sedentary lifestyle, decreased real-life social interaction and, you guessed it…violent behavior from playing violent video games.
We’ve all heard the (controversial) news that playing violent video games can cause aggressive behavior in kids, both in the short term as well as the long term. There are a multitude of studies that support this conclusion. However, there are also studies demonstrating that kids who engage in cooperative gaming are more altruistic in real-life interactions. Both sets of studies and their results demonstrate the priming effect, which refers to a response made to a stimulus that is based on a prior experience. As it applies to the playing of video games, this means that what an individual experiences virtually can influence real-life interactions.
So if my kid’s Minecraft character whacks a threatening villager during a stint of gaming, he may try to slug his brother if he thinks he’s being a jerk about, well, anything. On the flip side, if a child is helping his sibling build a house during the same Minecraft stint, he may want to play checkers later with that same sister or brother.
I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. What happens on screen doesn’t seem to stay on screen and, at least in the short term, translates to reality. Granted, my set of subjects is only three and our video games are limited but here are my observations. If my kids get into a “fight” on Minecraft, they start slugging it out over books, legos, snacks, etc. If they are truly working together to build a world on Minecraft, or trying to advance to the next level on, say, Cut the Rope, they can’t wait to make a restaurant out of old cardboard boxes and plastic toy food. And just because my sons duked it out one day, they won’t necessarily do so the next: they may happily be in cahoots planning a new “world” and duking in out with their sister. It’s quite clear there aren’t certain set-in-stone pairings of my kids, the pairings fluctuate depending on the gaming experiences they have together.
The priming effect of video games has been the explanation for violent behaviors (think the perpetrators of the Columbine high school shootings a number of years ago) and given the extreme nature of that tragedy, that reasoning has been controversial. However, research consistently supports that video game content influences kids’ behavior. I now see it in my own kids. Perhaps you see it in your own as well. I used to think their challenging behavior after iPod time was the “letdown” after being engaged in screen time. That may be partly true, and trying to find something new to do is frustrating at their age. (but it is character building…another topic entirely.). It is telling, though, that aggressive virtual behavior is followed by difficult behavior in other forms of play.
With the knowledge of the priming effect, where do we parents go from here? Like most parenting conundrums, it’s not a cut-and-dried issue. I do feel now that removing video games from my kids’ repertoire of play is an extreme solution, given there are many benefits to engaging the virtual world. In addition to the academic and physical advantages, I saw the feud between my son and his brother’s friend end after all three boys cooperated on a Minecraft world. Gaming actually brought peace to our household. But how do we deal with the hurt feelings, anger and possible aggression after a video game has gone awry? The key is, armed with the knowledge of the priming effect, we can understand why certain post-gaming behaviors occur. And then set household rules for gaming accordingly. We can limit time with video games to no more than an hour a day; with opportunities to “earn” more time. Monitoring what types of games our kids’ are playing is also important, and even though most kids who play aggression-based video games don’t go on to a life of crime, observing age recommendations for all games is also key.
The bottom line in all I read was simple: good parenting can make video gaming an overall positive experience for our kids.
Want more info? Here’s an article will some comprehensive details on the pros and cons of video games: