Conventional wisdom suggests that time spent playing video games is time wasted. The common perception is that few video games exercise the brain and, if there is any physical activity involved, it’s usually the occasional wave of a controller rather than anything that will work up a sweat. And shouldn’t kids be outside playing, rather than sitting in front of yet another screen?
Not so fast, say many parenting experts and researchers. Studies have consistently shown that the benefits of video gaming can far outweigh the perceived negatives. Although video gaming should certainly be supervised, there are good reasons why you should let your kids spend a few hours a week building cities or battling aliens. Here’s why:
1. Video games teach problem solving. Video games get kids to think. There are dozens of video games that are specifically geared towards learning, but even the most basic shooter game teaches kids to think logically and quickly process large amounts of data. Rather than passively absorbing content from, say, a TV show, a video game requires the player’s constant input to tell the story.
2. Video games are social. The stereotype of the pasty-faced adolescent sitting in his mom’s basement playing video games on his own is as outdated as Space Invaders. Many games have thriving online and offline fan-bases, and a community component that strongly encourages social interaction.
3. Video games provide positive reinforcement. Most video games are designed to allow players to succeed and be rewarded for that success. Different skill levels and a risk-and-reward gaming culture mean that kids are not afraid to fail and will take a few chances in order to achieve their ultimate goal.
4. Video games teach strategic thinking. Video games teach kids to think objectively about both the games themselves and their own performance. While there are many games that place a premium on strategy, most set an overall goal and give the gamer numerous ways in which he or she can achieve that goal. Players also get instant feedback on their decisions and quickly learn their own strengths and weaknesses.
5. Video games build teamwork. The vast majority of video games are now designed with cooperative play options. Whether it’s fighting off alien invaders, solving puzzles, or being on the same bobsleigh team, video games offer kids a wealth of opportunities to constructively work together.
6. Video games improve hand-eye coordination. Video games have been found to improve the balance and coordination of numerous patients from stroke victims to those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. There have even been studies that suggest that surgeons who regularly play video games make less mistakes in the operating theater than non-gamers. Even if your child is super-healthy and has no desire to be a surgeon or watch-maker, good hand-eye coordination is an invaluable skill to have.
7. Video games bring families together. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Video games aren’t just for kids anymore. Ask your kids to teach you a few moves and you might find that Family Fun Night is every bit as enjoyable as those games of Clue and Monopoly used to be when you were a kid!
Monica Vila is TheOnlineMom -a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in a child’s life. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook here or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.