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Coaching Your Child        < Previous        Next >


Pro's and Con's of Video Games


Q. I like how time on the computer is helping our son get more proficient at keyboarding. He seems to be very comfortable on the computer and it is bound to help him on down the line. However, we know there's also a down side to letting a child spend too much time with technology. What are the warning signs of crossing that line to the point where "playing" video games is actually harmful?


Your worries are well-placed, although there are benefits to "plugged-in play time." Proficiency in electronic entertainment devices can indeed prepare a young person use computers efficiently in upper-level high school and college courses, as you wisely point out.


In addition, children and teens actually learn a lot from properly-selected games that combine education and learning effectively. And it is found that playing video games can be a useful distraction for young people in certain situations who might otherwise turn to more destructive habits. Examples: long-term illness, divorce, a parent's unemployment, being rejected by a boyfriend or girlfriend, and so on.


But, as you also point out, there is a lot of potential for harm if the child or teen overdoes "gaming" or other technological toys. Note the major ones:


Obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that childhood obesity increases as time spent before a screen increases. One-third of American children are now considered overweight; for physical health reasons, limiting techno fun is a must to get our kids outside more and playing actively to build fitness.


Opportunity Cost. The more time a child or teen spends playing video games, the less time that young person has available for homework, interacting with family and friends, doing household chores that build responsibility, and most of all, reading for fun. Kids who are "hooked" on screen activities read little or no books on their own time, because the words on the page aren't in color, making arresting sounds and jumping all around. These kids find reading "boring." That is a huge concern if you want your child to do well in high school and college, and be qualified for a good career.

Desensitization to Violence and Sexualized Content. As many as nine out of 10 video games depict violence in some form. That's unconscionable, to be presenting that much violence to impressionable young minds. Women and girls also tend to be depicted only as hyper-sexed beings, which is a grave concern. It's not true that every child who spends time with violent video games is going to "go postal" and kill people or hurt females. But studies do show that these young people have a significant increase in aggression and a significant decrease in the ability to delay gratification. Those tendencies make them worse family members, students and future employees, a tremendous problem.


Addiction. If you spend your time "interacting" only with a machine playing on the computer, TV or handheld, that reduces your experience in interacting with real people. If you become addicted to anything, your other relationships and skills all suffer. Just as alcoholics and shopaholics sustain tangible damage to their physical bodies, relationships, finances and emotional health, becoming addicted to video games can be extremely destructive to a child or teen. They tend to become loners with low self-esteem and the problems compound and multiply.


But as with all other tasks of parenting, there is a way to manage video gaming to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. Smart parents will:


         Limit time online or plugged in to one hour a day. You can increase that to two hours on weekends and holidays. Make the child log in on a "timeclock" chart posted on the fridge and punish "cheating" (false recording) by removing all privileges for one week.


         Require that homework and chores be done BEFORE gaming can begin.


         Keep all techno toys in the family room, kitchen or other "mainstream" location in order to monitor kid time online or plugged in. DO NOT allow computers, TV's or other electronics in your child's bedroom or anywhere else that secrecy is possible.


         Watch over your child's shoulder and remove any objectionable content.


         Become familiar with the rating system on and don't allow overly violent or sexualized content to get in front of your child's eyes.


         If your child seems fascinated with electronics, and is withdrawing from you and friends, take it as a warning sign that the child feels neglected, confused or stressed. Increase YOUR attention and quality time with the child, provide healthy and fun alternative activities, and lead by example by avoiding video and Internet addictions yourself!


Homework: Read more good tips about children's health from Harvard Health Publications on, a partnership between Aetna and Harvard Medical School.


By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 28 2008




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