young woman gaming on a console

What should I know about video games and kids?

How many hours a day do kids play video games?

Video games are a popular form of entertainment for youth, from toddlers to young adults. According to several recent studies about young children and tweens and teens spend the following amount of time gaming in a typical day:

  • Toddlers (under the age of 2) spend minimal time playing any type of computer, console, or mobile games.
  • Preschoolers (ages 2 to 4) spend 5 minutes per day playing computer or console games, and 10 minutes playing mobile games.
  • Young children (ages 5 to 8) spend 19 minutes per day playing computer or console games, and 21 minutes playing mobile games.
  • Tweens (ages 8 to 12) spend 55 minutes per day playing computer or console games, and 34 minutes playing mobile games.
  • Teens ages thirteen to eighteen spend 69 minutes per day playing computer or console games, and 27 minutes playing mobile games.

Remember, the above reflects how much time the average child and teen plays video games. When thinking about your own child’s gaming it is important to consider where they are in their development, the type of game(s) they are playing and their other daily activities. In determining how much time your child can healthfully spend playing video games, it can be helpful to think of your child’s 24-hour day. Sketch out the hours they will spend sleeping, eating (including one family meal), school, homework, time outside, time being physically active and time being social. Once you/they know what time they have that is free, you can better help them plan how much of their free time they’d like to spend playing video games.According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), toddlers under the age of 18 months should not use any digital media except for video-chatting, while toddlers between 18 and 24 months should only use high quality, educational digital media alongside an adult. For children between the ages of 2 and 5, the AAP recommends no more than 1 hour per day of high quality digital media. For children and teens between ages 5 and 18, the AAP recommends creating a Family Digital Media Plan, incorporating digital media use (such as gaming) into a day full of healthy activities. Parents and caregivers should make sure that their children and teens:

  • Get a good night’s sleep as per the National Sleep Foundation’s guidelines
  • Get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day
  • Avoid exposure to digital media at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • Do their homework without using entertainment media
  • Designate media-free meals and areas of the home

What are some types of video games that kids play?

There are many different ways to play video games, including:

  • Console gaming, such as the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, or the Nintendo Switch
  • Handheld video gaming, such as the Nintendo 3DS or Nintendo Switch Lite
  • Computer gaming, played on a desktop computer or laptop, either as a downloaded game or through a service like Steam
  • Mobile gaming, such as those played on a smartphone or tablet via an app
  • Virtual Reality (VR) gaming, including the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift
  • Augmented Reality (AR) gaming, which can be played on a variety of devices

Regardless of the platform, many games have an online component, in which the game is played either partially or entirely online against other players. There are a vast number of different types of video game genres (and many games fit into several categories), but a few popular genres include:

  • First-person shooters (Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty)
  • Battle royale games (Fortnite, PUBG, Apex Legends)
  • Role-playing games (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Path of Exile)
  • Multiplayer online battle arena (Dota 2, League of Legends: Wild Rift)
  • Multiplayer online battle royale (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  • Action-adventure (Grand Theft Auto V)
  • Social simulation games (Animal Crossing, The Sims)

How are video games rated?

In North America, every game has a rating set by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). In Europe, the Pan European Game Information (PGEI) age rating system aims to help parents make informed decisions when it comes to their child’s gaming. While these ratings can be helpful, it is always best to read reviews of a game, and watch your child or teen play, in order to get a better understanding of the content and if it is optimal for your child.

Risks

Scientific research has shown time and again that children learn from what they see on a screen. If they see violence being rewarded, they are going to learn that being aggressive is a good way to get what they want, and this belief can have long term effects on children’s behavior. The negative effects of video game playing include:

  • Cyberbullying and sexual harassment: Many online games allow the player to interact with others via text or voice chat, and your child may be exposed to threats, offensive language, or other objectionable content–they may even engage in bullying others. Female gamers are often targets of sexual harassment.
  • Aggression: Children can learn that violence is an appropriate way to solve conflicts, and evidence shows that playing violent video games has the potential to increase aggression in some youth.
  • Desensitization: As children are continually exposed to violence in video games, they can become desensitized to it over time.
  • Anxiety: Some children may develop anxiety as a result of playing video games.
  • Sleep: Video gaming before bed can contribute to a variety of sleep problems, including poor quality sleep and not enough sleep.
  • Obesity: Video game playing can contribute to increased calorie consumption.

Benefits

As with the negative effects of video games, the same principle applies: scientific research has shown time and again that children learn from what they see on a screen. It is important to think about the content of games as well as the experience of playing them. Some of the benefits of video games include:

  • Physical activity: Exergames that are also a form of exercise (such as Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Fit) can encourage kids to move around while playing a video game, combating the typical sedentary aspects of video game play.
  • Prosocial skills: Video games that encourage the player to be helpful, cooperative, and altruistic, may positively affect a child’s real-life helping behavior.
  • Cognitive skills: Video gaming has the potential to improve brain functions like visual processing and information filtering, and many teens believe that playing certain games help their problem-solving skills.
  • Critical thinking skills: Video games designed with a specific purpose have the potential to educate children (such as games designed to teach healthy eating habits).

Research is still emerging in this field, and more studies need to be completed before we know the long-term effects of video games on the health of youth.

Healthy Use

To help your child use video games safely, DWL recommends that you consider the following tips:

  • Set up boundariesIt is easy to become involved in a game and play for hours at a time, but children benefit from a variety of activities. Agree on a certain amount of time to play games and suggest other activities they might enjoy.
  • Do Your Homework.Remember, the content of what your kids play is just as important as the amount of time they spend playing. When your children ask you for a new game, do you homework before you agree to purchase it. Learn the game’s ESRB rating, read reviews, and even play the game first before you allow your kids to play. If the game isn’t appropriate for their age or doesn’t match your value system, find an alternative game.
  • Keep video game systems out of your children’s bedroomsBy keeping the video games in a family area, you can see how, and how often, they are being used. You can also more easily keep track of time limits. Studies have shown that children with electronic media in their bedrooms are more likely to be overweight and have sleep problems.
  • Review and monitor interactive and online featuresMany games are multiplayer in nature, and will allow your child to chat or share content with other players who are often strangers. Be sure to set-up these accounts with your kids and let them know that you have their passwords should they ever need help. Discuss the importance of maintaining anonymity and privacy in these online environments with your teens, and consider disabling the features entirely for younger children.
  • Make it a social eventVideo games are fun and challenging for adults too. Parents can spend time with their youth by having a family gaming night (just make sure that the games are appropriate for everyone involved).
  • Discuss in-game purchases ahead of timeHelp your child or teen understand that in-game purchases are costly, and set limits on whether they can or cannot make these types of purchases. Parents can also consider restricting or disabling these features.

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