Do you remember playing Pokémon? Super Mario? The Legend of Zelda? Sonic? While the days of the original PlayStation, Game Boy and NES are long gone, you have fond memories of playing hour after hour on those classic machines.
But when it comes to video games today, you’re probably a little worried about how they compare to the ones you played as a child. Are they just a wasteland of mindless violence? Does gaming have a negative effect on kids? Odds are you’ve probably even heard more negative things about today’s video games than you have positive things. As much as you’d love giving your children the same experiences you had growing up, you might have some serious concerns.
For instance, some people believe disorders like ADHD are linked to playing video games. Some studies have shown that this belief is false, among many other perpetuated stereotypes about games. In fact, in moderation, video games can have the opposite effect—helping kids retain more information and focus their attention better. We’re not making this up; read on to see what other benefits video games can have on children.
7 Benefits of gaming you might not expect
1. Gaming increases cognitive functioning
A study featured in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal found that children who play video games frequently had “1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence” than those who did not play.
“This study concluded that no distinct correlation could be drawn between playing video games and health problems often feared to be caused by exposure to them,” Mathew Porter, director of RetroPlayers, says.
2. Gaming cultivates social skills
Popular belief may lead you to think that gamers hole up in dark rooms with no human interaction. While gaming can be a solo endeavor, many children opt to play games with their friends, creating a social event out of it. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that two-thirds of young gamers play face-to-face with family and friends. A quarter of young gamers play with internet friends. So whether the interaction be in person or through a screen, video games are building and encouraging social skills in kids—even if some of that time is spent refining their friendly trash-talking abilities.
3. Gaming improves hand-eye coordination
This may be the most widely known benefit, but for young children still in vital stages of development it’s a very important one. Fast-paced video games with a lot of action such as Madden or FIFA require players quickly react in the context of a sports game while pressing a combination of buttons to make their players run, kick, throw and score. Nearly every videogame, regardless of subject matter, requires players to use precise commands that influence their coordination—even simple games like Pong can help!
4. Gaming fosters decision-making
Anyone who has played any type of video game knows that games are based on decisions. From deciding whether to play as good or evil in a role-playing game or developing an overall growth strategy in strategy games like Sim City, decision-making abounds in video games. A study conducted by scientists at the University of Rochester suggests that gamers who play action video games are able to make decisions quicker than non-gamers. Those who play action video games are also accurate in their decisions, dispelling myths about gamers being trigger-happy or reckless.
5. Gaming may increase reading skills
A 2013 study from the University of Padua found that dyslexic children who played action video games had an increased ability to read faster and more clearly. In the study, children with dyslexia were split into two groups: one group played action video games while the other played non-action video games. The group that played action video games had a significant increase in reading time, accuracy and focused attention, compared to the group that played non-action video games. While a single study should not be used to make deductions, this research is incredibly promising for children with learning disabilities. Additionally, video games can be a fun way to get kids interested in reading and understanding character dialogue.
6. Gaming hones strategic thinking and logic skills
Many video games, as well as computer and board games, revolve around strategic thinking. How will I defeat my enemy? How can I create the best empire? How will I solve this quest? Children must develop plans and strategies to determine how they will advance to the next level and win the game. Oftentimes, games feature unexpected obstacles to deter from the long-term goal of winning. Players need to think on their feet and logically reason how they will overcome the problem.
7. Gaming helps children acclimate to technology
Video games are oftentimes a child’s first foray into the digital world. While it is recommended to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for media use, introducing children to safe video games for small increments of time can help acclimate them to electronics. Video games can spark an interest in technology, especially in those who may not be as interested in technology.
How to regulate gaming
While these benefits are all valid and can aid in your child’s development, like most things, video games need to be played in moderation. And while more and more educational and kid-friendly games are being produced, you—as a parent—still need to regulate and monitor what your child is playing.
“In terms of regulating what games kids play, it should be treated the same way that movies are,” Dr. John Paul Garrison says. “Much of what kids should or shouldn’t play is about the family’s values and morals.”
Parents should also pay attention to ratings on video games. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) created categories of ratings to help parents determine what is appropriate for their children. The ratings include early childhood (EC), everyone (E), teen (T), mature (M) and adults only (AO). Many stores will not sell M-rated games to gamers under the age of 17, but other enforcement is left up to parents. Use your best judgment, even if it means testing out the games yourself first to see what is most appropriate.
From teaching them how to work on a team to improving cognitive skills, it’s clear that there are some real benefits of gaming. As digital natives, your children will be exposed to technology constantly. Knowing how to use that technology in a responsible way will help your children develop a positive relationship with it.
There’s no escaping the electronic world we live in now. So why not embrace it? Teaching your children how to use and work with technology can greatly benefit them as they grow. Find out more in our article, Coding for Kids: The Benefits of Starting Computer Science Education Young.