Screen Time

The double-edged sword of allowing kids to play video games

You know them. You’ve played them. Today video games seem to be everywhere. Even an innocuous travel application like TripAdvisor has gamified elements that allow you to use it better and urge you to use it more. Marketing companies know very well that we like games. More and more they have been using game elements to hook us to their campaigns and make us fall in love with products and ideas. Even revolutionary educators are taking note of this and are using gamification in classrooms, recognizing that games can cause a very special form of engagement that traditional education may not, acknowledging that games sometimes teach and that many times we do learn through games.

Video game companies, developers and makers use this knowledge to create more accessible games. In the past, gaming and video gaming was associated with a specific stereotype: The good-for-nothing male slacker and the geek. Now, girls of all ages and shapes have access to games coexisting with a wide variety of types of gamers: the casual, the hard-core, and others; that vary depending on the time, skill and dedication they dedicate to their games. There’s even a breakthrough as a possible career of Professional E-Sport Gamer: very talented teams of players of certain competitive games like Overwatch, League of Legends and DOTA that get sponsored for their playing in national and international matches and leagues.

Amazing, huh? The penetration of video games in modern society is total; and everyone with a handheld screen can be a gamer. That’s why it comes as no surprise that your kid is so hooked to gaming: everybody is.

The Good News
This is not necessarily bad. There are thousands of examples of good video games with many good purposes: games that teaches us, games that let us experience realities that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Games can be great teachers and beautiful works of art. Associations like Games for Change (www.gamesforchange.org) are working together with all kinds of developers to get great games together and advocate for the value of gaming. Even big companies like Nintendo are now creating wonderful examples of hands-on games that develop alternative ways of learning coding, engineering and art with their Nintendo Labo. Games also pave the way for social interaction with interactive multiplayer experiences that boost cooperation and creativity. A great example of this would be Minecraft, although there are thousands and thousands of other examples that may be checked through the shared website. So, no: gaming is not bad, and it won’t make anybody less intelligent. On the contrary: good games make you smarter!

The Bad News
Video games can be bad. In the same way as eating too much fat or too much sugar can be bad. In the same way as eating a pizza for every meal can be very bad for you. Some games can be inappropriate for your kids’ age and maturity, some others can have predatory business practice that aim to hook the player into addiction and a never ending useless spending of money. And more importantly, all games are screen time and it’s been proven that too much screen time in a developing brain can be extremely harmful.

When unchecked, kids can end up playing games that are completely inappropriate for their age. As a teacher and a librarian, I have many times encountered kids playing games like Player Unknown Battle Ground, or Grand Theft Auto, both known for their gratuitous violence display. Kids also end up having access to free-to-play software like Roblox in which they have social interaction with other players but have the option of paying real money for customization items for the game that have no in-game real reward. Lately some companies have been extending the use of these predatory practices in their games, introducing Loot Boxes (gamble machines with real money for in-game content) that are necessary for the game’s progression, targeting a very dangerous addiction to very young, unaware minds. Examples of this can be found in EA games, especially in the latest Star Wars Battlefront, even financially sanctioned in some countries for their gambling practices.

The Better News
You can be the difference between good games and bad games for your kids. You are the key element. Your interaction with your kids will determine what they play. Get to know them. Get to know what they play and even try to play what they play! Getting involved in your kids’ gaming will be the most powerful control you can have over what they consume.

Fortunately, you are not alone in this task. The Entertainment Software Rating Board is constantly on the look for new games and rates them according to their content and use. Check their website for more information www.esrb.org. They will have all kinds of tools to help you understand what you can do to help your kid choose games that will boost their passion for learning and life. Also check Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org), a website dedicated to check all kinds of media and give you information about their content. In a nutshell, they recommend:

• Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting for children younger than 18 months.
• If you choose to introduce media to children 18-24 months, find highquality programming and co-view and co-play.
• Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs for children age 2 to 5 years.
• Create a family media plan with consistent rules and enforce them for older kids.

I dare to add: play with your kid and always get in the know of what they are playing and consuming.

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