Whether we like them or not, video games are here to stay. Although they have often been associated with negative outcomes, they can also be powerful resources to help kids develop multiple skills.
Video games change players’ brains. Recent evidence suggests that gaming can teach kids to persist even when faced with failure, they can help them foster creativity, they can help develop cognitive skills, and they can even reduce stress and anxiety. However, it’s not always easy to know how to select kids’ video games or to determine which games will help develop these skills. What you need to keep in mind is that different video games are designed with different objectives. Here are five things to keep in mind when selecting your kid’s video games
1) Select age-appropriate video games
All video games come with suitability ratings and these ratings can help determine whether or not a particular game is appropriate depending on your child’s developmental stage. Although ratings are generally a good guide, they do not take into account each child’s level of maturity and experience. Keep this in mind when choosing your kids’ games. If you’re unsure about a game’s suitability, don’t hesitate to check out available reviews on the Internet or to monitor your kid.
2) Keep your child’s personality and interests in mind
There is evidence that the games that elicit positive emotions are those that kids enjoy most. When kids choose the games they enjoy, these games are more likely to have a positive impact on their moods.
3) Be clear about your video game philosophy
When we adopt passive attitudes to video game playing, we fail to send strong messages about what we consider to be acceptable and unacceptable games:
- What’s your video game philosophy?
- Are all games acceptable?
- Are your kids allowed to play violent games?
- Are you for or against shooting games?
Being clear on your video games philosophy makes what is acceptable clear for everyone concerned.
4) Privilege games that engage your kid
Kids learn best when they are active participants, when they are kept motivated, when increasing levels of difficulty are introduced once core concepts are mastered, and when they are kept engaged. Not all video games cover these aspects, and different video games often cover different aspects. When choosing kids’ video games, pay attention to:
Strategic video games – strategic video games focus on reasoning, strategy and tactics. These games have been proven to increase problem solving skills, even in real life.
- Games that foster prosocial skills – evidence suggests that kids who play video games focused on cooperation are more likely to display prosocial behavior over the long-term.
- Games that help develop cognitive skills – some games are designed to develop hand-eye coordination and to encourage players to pay attention to the finer details when playing (spatial skills). Several studies have shown that the cognitive skills learnt in some video games can be transferred to everyday situations. One study found that action game players made more accurate decisions per unit time, even in real life. Action games also help improve players’ memories because they force them to decide what information they need to keep in mind, and what information they can do away with.
- Games that improve concentration – Most games are designed to keep players focused but some games are better able to keep players’ concentrated. In one study for instance, researchers found that children with ADHD improved their reading skills after playing Dance Dance Revolution.
5) Be attentive to the negative effects of video games
Although the research on “how much gaming is too much” is inconsistent, one study suggests that negative effects such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness and lack of interest in school are more common among children who play video games for more than 3 hours a day. In other words, video game playing is more beneficial that passive TV watching, but only if it’s done for shorter periods. The study suggests that playing for less than an hour everyday has a positive impact on kids’ behaviors and moods.
The negative effects of video games on behavior have been widely documented. If you notice a negative change in your child’s behavior after playing a specific game, stop him or her from playing that game. Although video games can be highly beneficial, the time kids’ spent in front of a screen means less time for other activities. Don’t forget that videogame addiction is a real problem.
Video games that help build important social skills
Video games that help develop prosocial skills
Nintendogs (age 6+), Super Mario Sunshine (age 3+), Chibi-Robo (age 12+), Wii Fit (age 7+)
Video games that help reduce stress in kids
Animal Crossing (age 8+), Tomodachi Life (age 8+), or Pokemon X (age 7+)
Video games that help spark creativity in kids
Minecraft (age 8+), Terraria (age 9+), Little Big Planet (age 8+), Big Brain Academy (age 8+), Scribblenauts (age 8+), The Sims (age 12+)
Video games that help build cognitive skills in kids
Brain age (age 8+), Big Brain Academy (age 8+)
Video games that help foster resilience in kids
Minecraft (age 8+), Zoombinis (age 8+), Little Big Planet (age 8+)
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