TV games have been a part of our lives since the early 1970’s. Playing video games at your friend’s house that had a console with a selection of 10 games was considered a treat.  Nowadays, not much is different except that having some sort of gaming console in one’s house is more common, and there is more pressure on parents by their children to have the latest PlayStation or Xbox.  Games have changed and developed over time, and vary from educational, to logical, to strategy, to competitive.


Press Start to Begin

When is right time for my child to start gaming? Or rather, when is the wrong time for my child to start gaming? I do not think there needs to be a ‘start time’ to gaming. I don’t think it’s a necessary activity in a child’s life as perhaps learning the rules of Uno, Chess or Monopoly or how to spin a top is.  Non-educational gaming does not add value to a child’s development that cannot be obtained elsewhere.  So, when is the wrong time to allow your child to game? While the foundations of a child’s development are still being laid (up until approximately 11), games should be discouraged – there is so much to be learnt cognitively, emotionally and socially before then that can and should ideally be learned without gaming.


Choose one or two player mode

Between the ages of 2 and 7, children in the Preoperational stage and should be engaging in parallel play.  This means that there may be another child with them in the room, but they will not necessarily play together until later in the stage.  Parallel play is transitory to more social mature and cooperative play.  Between the ages of 4 and 7 children should be learning to socialise.  They will come home from pre-primary and may speak about a particular friend. They will request play dates, and be invited to birthday parties. While this may need to be encouraged initially, it is of great benefit to your child, and vital for their development.

Many video games are one player games, and even when they are two player games they do not allow for valuable social interaction. Two player games are more than likely competitive in nature – cars racing against one another or even just two players competing for the highest score.  These games are more solitary in nature. Solitary play is normal and acceptable for toddlers, but not for children who need to be social and learn to interact with others.

If your child has a friend over video games should be limited – this seems to make the social engagement null and void as they will not spend much time actually communicating with one another.  If parents choose to allow their child to play video games with a visiting friend, the visiting friend’s parents should also be consulted about their rules regarding television and video games (particularly if these games involve any violence or behaviour that one might deem inappropriate for younger children.)


Not Suitable for Younger Viewers

Just like age restricted movies, age restricted games are restricted for a reason – playing too advanced games can be detrimental to a child’s development.  Exposure to inappropriate material such as swearing, violence, drugs, nudity and even prostitution (as in certain games) can affect a child mentally and emotionally. I would also consider it to be quite negligent on the part of the parents.  Parental supervision is paramount during gaming, but also in observing their child’s behaviour as a result of gaming. If your child becomes more aggressive, withdrawn or sedentary then you need to step in and set some guidelines.

As with many of life’s indulgences, everything should be in moderation. If parents are going to allow their children to play games, there need to be limits on the types of games and the time spent in front of the screen (screen time should be all inclusive – television programmes, video games, computer games, iPad).  Screen time should be limited to a maximum of 2 hours per day – perhaps with more on weekends or rainy days.  As with any treats (I consider gaming a treat, not a necessity), gaming should only be allowed once homework and other necessary tasks have been completed for the day.

Playing of video or computer games in place of board games, reading books and playing outside is an absolute no-no. Video games as a means to ‘babysit’ your child and keep them occupied is equally as frowned upon. Children require outside stimulation, and time spent with ‘real people’ in order to develop.  With the above in mind, and with the aforementioned time and supervisory limits, if electronic gaming is not taking the place of face time with family and friends, board games or puzzles and reading, but rather as a small addition to a child’s enjoyment, I do not see harm in enjoying an age appropriate video or computer game.  Games can allow children to relax and spend some time in a fantasy world (which they may sometimes need).

Excessive gaming – even non-violent can lead to social isolation.  Children who are inherently shy or have a tendency to withdraw will find comfort in gaming and online relationships where they do not need to interact personally with other people.  Especially with these children parents need to be encouraging of social interactions and assisting them in finding playdates with other like-minded children so they do not become overwhelmed.  Using gaming to compensate for real life social interaction is not healthy and can lead to increased social anxiety and depression.


What do the experts say?

Some psychologists, parents and scientists explain that there can be benefits of playing video games – such as developing accuracy, planning, hand-eye coordination, multi-tasking, development of maths or reading, memory and concentration.  Gaming may be a more accessible way to learn skills.  Gaming can assist children in directing their aggression and as a way to calm them down.  While this may be true, other professionals are of the opinion that these skills can all be learned ‘off screen’ and without some of the possible negative effects of video games such as exposure to inappropriate material, lack of real social engagement, possible weight difficulties, eye problems, poor posture, Vitamin D deficiency and time to sit and process real life situations (instead of always spending time in an often unrealistic fantasy world). For example, playing a computer game to relax or unwind can be replaced with listening to calming music, or using a ‘calm down’ box of toys that children like.

Even without trying parents are models of behaviour for our children.  If Dad is allowed to play PlayStation for as long as he wants, then a child will think they’re entitled too. Parents need to model alternate forms of recreation, and also spend quality time with their child. If parents enjoy games of any sorts these should not be played in place of time spent with their children, and if these games are at all inappropriate they should not be placed in the presence of their child. As with allowing your child to play inappropriate games, exposing your child to inappropriate games can be equally as negligent.

Children who are susceptible to aggression or violent behaviour will be more sensitive to and affected by aggressive and violent games.  That being said, even a non-violent child with no propensity for aggression will be affected negatively by violent games.  While we cannot shelter our children from violence or crime, we should not be deliberately exposing them to situations where they are taught that violence is acceptable.  Games without violence such as Super Mario Brothers are likely harmless and do not need to be prohibited, but rather limited time-wise.

As with everything, moderation and boundaries are key. Gaming is not wrong, it’s not something that should be banned, but it should be monitored and boundaries should be put in place. Inappropriate games should be prohibited until children are of age, and children should be encouraged to develop skills alongside gaming – such as by playing board games, doing puzzles, riding bicycles and socialising with their friends. Parents need to model positive behaviour and be aware of their children’s developmental and social needs.

Written for Mamas and Papas Magazine


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