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A Healthy Approach to Video Games

In the past, parents worried about their kids spending too much in front of the television. Now we face the all-encompassing “screen time” struggle for kids who inevitably rely on their computers, tablets, phones and other devices for learning and entertainment. Video games have been especially controversial.

The Benefits

Despite data showing that video games are a popular pastime for men and women of all ages and backgrounds, inaccurate stereotypes about players have long persisted. Decades of research focused mostly on negative consequences, such as aggression and poor social skills. Recent studies, however, show a more balanced perspective on how video games could potentially impact adolescent development. The right games, played for the right reasons, prove to have a wide range of benefits: 

  • Strategic video games enhance problem-solving and cognitive skills
  • Simple games improve moods and promote relaxation
  • Multi-player games teach cooperation and other social skills
  • Exergames encourage movement and an active lifestyle 

The Balance

Regardless of the benefits, any activity in excess can be harmful. You may have seen the news earlier this year about China’s rule banning minors from playing video games during the school week and limiting their play on weekends and holidays. While most people living in the United States would balk at this kind of government intervention, it does spark the question: How can parents promote healthy gaming habits for their kids?

  • Monitor your child’s play. This includes what your child is playing, how much they are playing and who they’re playing with. Educational games can be helpful, but it’s important to be aware that your children can also access games that contain violence, foul language, harmful stereotypes and other inappropriate content. Online games can also expose them to strangers, including adults. A great solution is to play the video games with your children, or at least encourage them to play in public areas of the home and not behind a closed door where you can’t see them.  
  • Set a good example. Remember that kids imitate the behavior of their parents. They’ll notice what games you play and how often you play them. Likewise, they can learn to manage their time and prioritize responsibly if they observe that behavior in you.
  • Set rules and limits, as needed. As a parent, you want to help your children make healthy decisions about what games they play and how they balance their screen time with school work, physical activity and other interests. This will translate to skills that help them later in life. Ensure that schoolwork and chores are complete before playing video games, and set reasonable limits if you notice changes in their health or behavior.

The video game industry is constantly evolving and the majority of U.S. households have at least one computer, console or handheld device for playing video games. If your kids haven’t already shown an interest in video games, it’s likely coming down the road. You know your kids best, and the key is to find a balance that works for your family. If your kids exhibit signs of gaming addiction, professional help is available.

Dr. David Lowenstein is a Columbus, Ohio-based psychologist with more than 35 years of experience. He conducts individual, family, and group therapy sessions in his German Village office and also via telehealth. Dr. Lowenstein is also available for expert forensic testimony, and for educational workshops and presentations. He is frequently called upon as an expert source for print, radio, and broadcast media. Contact Dr. Lowenstein at Lowenstein & Associates, 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.