Are video games bad for children’s mental health? The answer may surprise you: shots

1685710089 Are video games bad for childrens mental health The answer | isentertainmentgroup
Video games can be both beneficial and risky for teenagers.  Parents can guide them better if they explore their games with them.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s with parents who strictly controlled my « screen time, » which at the time almost exclusively meant TV, as well as a pocket game that died when I was 10 and has never been replaced . Like many of my generation, I absorbed the general feeling that video games, like TV, were frivolous brain rot.

Now, my two boys, 12 and 13, are growing up in a digital world in a different way than me. Their generation lives online, spend more hours in virtual spaces since the beginning of the pandemic.

I’m lucky: My kids are hardworking and kind to their chronically exhausted single mother. They make raising them as easy and joyful as adolescence might allow.

However, our internal video game rules are arbitrary, and our disputes about them are constant. No amount of yelling « No games on school nights! » or « Not before dinner! » worked or inspired them to learn a new skill.

I feel like I’m flying blind when it comes to regulating their game usage and I know I’m not alone. Many parents fear they should do more to limit online gaming.

But as I’ve learned from talking to numerous experts — psychologists, game designers, and researchers — the impact of video games is more nuanced than that of other types of screen time, like social media. In fact, some research shows it can have positive effects, such as promoting problem solving, or teamwork and communication.

Here are the opinions and advice of these experts on how to maximize the benefits of the game and protect children from potential dangers.

Video games are different from other screen time in crucial ways and have some advantages

« Screen time » is an outdated concept. Children study, play video games, use social media and watch videos on screens, but not all have the same impact on development. In fact, video games don’t show the kind of negative behavioral or emotional effects that researchers correlate with social media use, he says. Kelly Dunlapclinical psychologist and community director for Take this, a mental health advocacy group within the gaming community.

« Research has shown over and over and over again, time spent playing video games is not predictive of mental health outcomes, » she says.

One reason for the difference in impact could be that social media is mostly about marketing or comparing yourself to others, while gaming is generally about socializing with friends, solving a puzzle, or competing.

In fact, says Dunlap, parents often overlook some of the benefits of games: « They are a tool. You can use games to enhance your social connectedness, to practice feeling emotions that we normally avoid, such as guilt, grief, or shame. A lot of games bring out those feelings within us and give us a space to play with those feelings. »

Games that involve joint projects like a battle or quest can help develop useful social skills, she says Peter Etchell, a research psychologist at Bath Spa University in the UK « It requires very precise team building, » he says. « It requires thinking about timing and placement and good communication skills to coordinate with people. It’s doing that kind of coordinated work that’s really useful for all kinds of things. »

Help kids prioritize offline activities so the game doesn’t include them

Children need some limits to their play, especially if it starts crowding out other essential or healthy activities, many experts warn, such as schoolwork and sleep in particular.

« Screen time is a hard thing to quantify, » she says Michael Rich, a pediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital. « What’s easier to quantify — and probably more in line with what’s optimal from a development standpoint — is quantifying off-screen time. »

Advise parents to be careful that family meals, household chores, and outdoor or in-person play are not included in play time.

Kids also benefit from having periods of lower stimulation, away from technology, Rich says. “I want to bring boredom back,” Rich argues, because that too can lead to imaginative play.

You need to start playing with your kids

Every expert I spoke with recommended playing video games with your child to figure out what might specifically motivate them to play: the needs that the game might meet for them.

Online chess, for example, is a different experience than playing a multiplayer game with friends. Shy children may find it easier to socialize in games. Another child might consider it a stress reliever. Some children may use games as a place to escape or work through a difficult situation.

Boston Children’s Rich says most of the things parents worry about with games — stranger danger, violence, sexuality — can be addressed simply by exploring play through their eyes.

« What’s happening is you’re saying, ‘I love you, I respect you, I want to understand what’s affecting you here,' » says Rich. « You’re entering that space with a very different stance, essentially that of the student. You’re going to get a sense of what play is all about. »

If you’ve noticed your kids yelling, screaming or crying about something that happened in a game, don’t be disturbed, experts say. A child’s reactions to emotions and interpersonal dynamics are real, even if the game itself takes place virtually or on a device. Experts say tantrums during play do not mean your child is more likely to act violently in real life.

Video games are like other spaces where your kids hang out. Ask yourself: is it safe? Who else is there?

Games are social spaces – good or bad things can happen there – just like in real life. Think of the games your kids play as another kind of space that you let them hang out in, several experts have suggested.

For example: If you have a 5-year-old, you wouldn’t leave your child alone in a mall, where strangers might approach. Now you could drop your kid off at the mall, but not before you’ve discussed who they’re going out with, what they’re planning to do, and maybe an agreement on when to come home for dinner. The same general principles can be applied to teenagers who play.

Parents should ask themselves: Does play culture itself seem to foster age-appropriate behavior? Games featuring female characters with exaggerated sexual characteristics, for example, could subject a child to sexual harassment.

If you don’t like what you see in a game, remember that outright bans and restrictions tend to backfire on teenagers. It’s more vital to keep the lines of communication open, say Dunlap and other experts, so if something bad happens within the game, you can help them process or deal with it.

Beware of « dark designs » or designs that fuel the game nonstop

Beware of certain « dark patterns » or « dark designs » in games, say several gaming experts. These terms refer to software or algorithms written to elicit certain negative behaviors in their users.

One of the most common are in-game purchases that can border on extortion, says Max Birk, an industrial design researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. « It’s important because it changes the emphasis of game designers, » he says.

Games powered by in-game purchases (as opposed to games you buy upfront, like NBA2K or Dance Dance Revolution) tend to have a financial stake in keeping kids engaged for extended periods of time. These games make it very easy to start a new game or create strong incentives to keep players coming back.

Birk suggests talking to your kids about game structure and directing them towards games that are more about storylines or that have natural end points that may allow your child to wrap up the game on their own.

Monitor gaming for toxic culture and harassment

Culture and toxic commentary can thrive in some games because parents don’t control those spaces. This often takes the form of harassing female players. It is especially incumbent on parents of teens to make sure they treat people fairly online and to oppose any sexist or misogynistic speech, she says Jess Fox, communications professor at Ohio State University.

Remind your children that the rules on respectful behavior apply online as they do in real life. « The culture of the game and the norms of the game will stamp their idea of ​​normal behavior, what is acceptable behavior, » says Fox. That’s why it’s essential for parents to monitor the play space: listen to conversations, keep the screen visible to the public.

Find the safest and most inclusive spaces thanks to design. Fortnite, Fox notes, is an example of a game that has a huge diversity of characters in the game, because it’s trying to appeal to a very large audience. This diversity makes it more difficult to distinguish players by race or gender.

Watch out for these gaming red flags

For many children, play can be a positive, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for these signs of problematic play use.

Overspending in games: The game’s financial incentives might be to keep your child engaged and encourage — even try to coerce — their characters to spend money to advance. Teach your child to recognize these kinds of tactics and redirect them to games where the game itself is the main focus.

Negative reactions or anxiety about gaming friends: If your child repeatedly has large emotional reactions to the game, check and find out which elements of the game are so upsetting. Then redirect them to games and spaces that don’t have these elements. Find single player games to take a break from the social dynamics.

Sleeping too little: If your child plays late into the night or shows up groggy in the morning, their gambling use may be out of control. Make sure your child cannot access games all night long. Often, it’s not the desire to play itself, but the social pressure not to miss out on experiences with friends that will keep them online, says British researcher Peter Etchells. So he shuts down other technologies as well, preferably well before bedtime.