A top concern for parents nowadays is that their kids are spending too much time on video games. Parents are especially fearful that video games are linked to violent behaviours, addiction or conditions of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Some parents choose to ban video games completely, while some others continue permitting the gadgets, battling feelings of helplessness and guilt.
For my Opinion Writing class in journalism school, I had to take a stance on the subject whether for or against video games. Unlike news reporting which should be objective and balanced, an op-ed has to take a clear side on a matter and put forward strong supporting reasons, as my tutor (an INYT Asia Op-Ed editor) says. With an 8 year-old boy at home and video games a regular issue of contention, I was searching my heart in deciding which side to take.
As it turned out, I wrote that video games are not all bad for kids, but are necessary today. I am for, not against. This explains why, despite all the struggles imposing limits on play time, I have been refusing to take my husband’s suggestion to just ban the games completely. Because I have been secretly impressed with my boy’s determined passion for his virtual worlds, and in love with his creative display at it. Because I would be as heart-broken as my son would be if his Minecraft terrain built since he started more than a year ago should be terminated and lost forever.
As soft-hearted and bias I may be, I wrote that, beyond the worries, it is worth taking a positive look at the matter. Lucky son, that sealed the deal for him. Now I have to put my foot where my mouth is. Fearfully I embrace it, but I am even more determined to proactively manage his time use and garner the benefits away from the ills in video games. It really helped confront the dilemma when I started breaking the issue down.
Video games actually offer a number of good things and are increasingly necessary in our technology infused world.
The accusations thrown at video games are not too different from the ones concerning television when parents today were themselves growing up. Take violence or ADHD, as with TV, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that playing video games is guilty of the bad effects of violence or other mental issues. There is however one note-worthy distinction: TV is said to be harmful to brain development for kids as it involves passive reception of information. An exception is Sesame Street that many experts said to be good for kids as being educational and interactive. Now, many video games offer exactly that – educational and interactive.
Research suggests that kids still spend a lot of time in front of the TV set – a manifestation of modern urban life with busy working parents and limited outdoor space, or simply the entertainment appeal. Educational video games that take kids away from the passive screen are actually a good thing among other options.
As an example, U.S. company Leapfrog offers educational electronic learning gadgets for children from two years old. Many parents turn to Leapfrog’s products to help engage kids with interesting and educational materials. There are also many educational Apps designed for kids from the very young. These are one form of kids’ first encounter to video games.
The reality is that technology and electronic devices are already integrated into our lifestyle. Besides offering conveniences, they are tools for us to connect with the world and our window to an extensive source of information. Similarly, video games can provide kids with the opportunity to learn a wide range of knowledge about the world that they may not otherwise have access to or available from their parents or school. There is immense educational value in complex or sophisticated video games that introduce literacy, mathematics, science, arts or history. These provide kids with a powerful way of learning that may be more effective than other methods.
Games offering graphics and virtual reality could also springboard learning for kids in new areas. Popular Internet and Apps game Minecraft provides an open platform for building 3-D structures, akin to digital Lego. Players are free to create their own world, using a diverse offering of resources including some rare metals or materials. Kids who play Minecraft are able to engage in design and planning, developing advanced mental visual and spatial skills. The game also comes in social mode where players are able to link online and enter each other’s world, providing opportunities to interact and collaborate. In ‘survival’ mode, kids learn to anticipate potential attack and prepare lines of defense.
At a party, a bunch of kids are gathered but all engaged with their electronic devices. Parents frown, as the kids are not interacting socially as they should. However, the children are actually working together to build a town on Minecraft. Weeks later, the kids still talk about the shared experience and discuss their next adventure. This represents a new way of socialising. Not having any contact with video games may potentially leave a kid excluded.
As information technology and digital media will only grow in importance in the future, it is crucial for kids to pick up the related skills in order to be relevant. This is true for social media skills, as well as developing crucial digital know-how that could lay the groundwork for children to fit in later in life, if not to lead the next technological revolution. Information technology is becoming a core educational subject. Some schools may introduce Minecraft into their curriculum.
The problem is when kids spend too much time on video games. As I heard an educator say at a parents-teachers conference, “I thought Minecraft offers educational value for kids, but not when kids can’t wait to jump straight into it the moment they get on the school bus”. He is exactly right. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should not spend more than an hour or two per day on video games or other electronic screens including TV. Essentially, this is about balancing time with the other activities – reading and schoolwork, out-door play, family time, social time, meals and rest.
Parents need to proactively guide kids to tackle potential addiction and inculcate a life-long skill of time management. This is where I shall persist and am determined to prevail over my son. It can be difficult and often painful, but in the same spirit of parents setting appropriate boundaries and instilling proper values, we have a role here to teach our kids priority-setting and responsibility in time use. From determining the form and level of exposure at any given age, to the amount of play time versus other activities, parents need to be thoughtfully involved.
It is key to also communicate with kids about appropriate choice of content and addressing any violence or aggression in video games. The selection process is itself again education and as necessary for video games as it is for books, TV programs, toys or other activities. In the world today there are unfortunately forms of violence in many areas of real life. Besides avoiding exposure, at the same time it is important to help children develop the right mindset on violence that it is wrong.
So, instead of avoiding video games altogether, parents need to set limits and enforce the boundaries, in managing extent of use and age-appropriate content. Forcefully suppressing game play may have its own negative repercussions, whereas complete denial will cut children off a major part of our fast tech-developing society. There could also be risk of backlash – when it might be even harder or impossible to inculcate good values and teach limit-setting when kids eventually get freedom to play outside parents’ control or oversight.
The best way to go is to embrace video games with the right attitude and approach. No pretences, it is to be a challenging but learning experience for both parent and child. I hope we’ll all come out the other end happy, wiser and tech savvy.
Kids’ 2014 Minecraft Fireworks Prep