Parents Guide to Online Video Games: How To Keep Your Kid Safe

Playing Video Game

Many children today love to play video games. And, most are fans and spectators in the increasingly popular category of live streams and gaming videos among those that don’t play.

The games can be a great source of entertainment and learning for the whole family. Indeed, playing video games together is considered an excellent bonding time with the young ones. If you can spare a few minutes every weekend to game with the kids, it brings the family closer.

On the flip side, however, video games also present a few risks for the gamer kid and the family in general. For instance, studies show a short spike in aggressive behavior after experiencing game violence (more on this later). Video games can also be addictive, which can create a few problems for the entire family.

For the above reasons, the parent has a responsibility to monitor and guide their kids and direct them accordingly to ensure that they’re enjoying the games without the extreme side effects.

This parents’ guide to video gaming is designed to help you fully understand the gaming space so you can offer the best guidance and direction for your young gamers.

State of Video Gaming Among Kids

Playing Games

Let’s begin with an overview of video gaming among the younger generation. How popular is video gaming among the lower age groups, which games do they play most, and how much time do they spend gaming?

The most detailed study on video game use among children was published a few years ago on the NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV website. It shows that the vast majority (97%) of children in the United States own or play video/computer games. The more recent Evolution of Entertainment study puts the figure at 73%.

At least 53% own and play some handheld game system while about 43% live in homes that possess a type of video game/TV system, including Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, etc. More than 63% of the families own at least two of these devices.

The study also revealed that, on average, families that own video gaming systems have 21 different computer/video games; over half own 20+ games.

Violent Games

It’s also worth mentioning that most (61%) of the video games qualify as educational. However, 23% are as violent. Around 13% of the violent games are violence-themed, 8% contain non-human violence, and 2% have human violence. Only 19% of kids played exclusively educational video games.

Boys tend to play violent videos more than girls. Of all the games boys play, 39% contain violent scenes, compared to 9% for girls.

Total gaming time

The other statistic that sticks out is the total time spent gaming. Parents report that their kids spend, on average, 3.4 hours per week playing games, which is second only to TV at 4.9 hours.

Here too, boys lead the line. On average, boys spend 4.3 hours per week playing video games while girls spend about 2.4 hours.

Social context

We also feel it’s essential to determine how often kids play video games alone, as this could point to social issues. And, indeed, it looks like there’s a small problem.

Overall, kids tend to play videos alone, away from social company. About 44% of the time, they play alone. Only 33% of the time do they play with their siblings. About 1-in-10 times, they play with friends. They also play with parents one in ten times.

The Positive Impacts of Video Gaming Among Kids

Video Game Playing

Now that we have some context on the state of video gaming among our kids, let’s discuss how games affect them, starting with the positive impacts.

Though many times parents tend to focus on the negatives of video gaming and live-stream video consumption, these activities actually do come with a few upsides, including;

Develops reading skills

Studies show that kids who play video games tend to get a small boost in their reading skills. This is especially true among kids who struggle with reading and holds even when they play action games.

Researchers think that it might be related to gamers’ need to understand (figure out) text instructions to play. Children who aren’t excited to read a traditional book will likely rush to the internet to read the latest on their favorite game. This doesn’t mean that video games should replace books, though.

Promotes visual-spatial learning

Visual-spatial skills are the processing skills children use to read and follow maps, follow dance moves, and solve math problems. Kids also need these skills to make sense of letters and numbers. As we grow up, visual-spatial skills are also crucial in finding your way home from a new neighborhood.

Video games provide an excellent chance for kids to learn these skills from a young age. Many games such as Minecraft are set in 3D virtual worlds such that players must navigate to find their way out. Since there’s no GPS or maps to guide them, the result is that they must put their visual-spatial skills to the task.

Promotes problem-solving skills

At the heart of every video game is a challenge that the player must solve to pass that level or score points. Although some games don’t require much thinking to solve the underlying challenge, some are so complex it can take hours or even days to complete just one level. Puzzles, mysteries, and managing visual cities and empires, for instance, are extremely demanding challenges.

Research shows that kids who play these challenging games experience development in three areas – planning, organization, and flexible thinking. Beware, however, that there’s no published research linking in-game problem-solving capacity with real-life problem-solving abilities.

Foster social connection

Finally, video games also help kids socialize. Some kids have problems fitting into social settings and making friends in real life. They spend most of their time alone and could stay in their room most of the day. Video games offer an opportunity for these kids to connect with people positively. Virtual play-dates can also help them build social connections.

What’s more, video games give kids something to talk about at school, which can go a long way in helping them make friends. An interest in gaming can also help kids who have trouble coming up with topics to discuss.

Potential Risks of Video Gaming Among Kids

Video Games Stats

Despite the many advantages of video gaming, though, playing certain games, excessive gaming, and insufficient monitoring can make games “dangerous” for the development of the child. The following are just a few ways gaming can affect the young ones;

Increased violent and aggressive behavior

This is the biggest concern among kids that play video games. Children who play more video games have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They also demonstrate decreased prosocial helping, according to a scientific study by Anderson & Bushman in 2001. Those who play or watch videos with many violent themes are also more inclined to be violent themselves.

Other studies about video games and violence indicate that playing or watching too many violence-themed videos is associated with loss of empathy and emotional callousness. Such kids are also more likely to be sent to the principal’s office for fighting or hitting a mate.

According to Jay Hull, a psychologist, players may also exhibit riskier behaviors such as reckless driving, binge drinking, smoking, and unsafe sex.

Negatively impacts academic performance

The player’s academic achievement may be negatively impacted for several reasons. First, time spent on video games can eat into homework time. Studies show that the more time a kid spends playing video games, the less time they spend on books and school work. The result is usually poorer performances compared to their non-gaming days.

Secondly, a study by Argosy University’s Minnesota School of Professional Psychology has also found that kids who spend a lot of time playing video games argue a lot with their teachers, fight a lot with their friends, and generally score lower grades than those who don’t play video games as often. Avid players also tend to skip homework (to play games).

Lastly, uncontrolled gaming can also damage the kid’s concentration span in the long term. Although it boosts attention in the short-term, over a long period, players suffer from inattention and may even develop ADHD. All these can hurt academic performance.

Impacts on the player’s health

We’ve already mentioned Attention Deficiency/Hypersensitivity Disorder (ADHD) as a potential consequence of uncontrolled gaming among kids. That’s often just the start of potential health problems.

Excessively playing video games causes muscle pain. In 2014, Dutch researchers looked into reported problems with Nintendo. Players suffered discomfort with the neck, wrist, hand, and forearm. This condition is known as Nintenditis or “Nintendo neck.”
Video games can also trigger seizures, increase the risk of obesity, and worsen sleep deprivation. Up to 5% of people with epilepsy have a form known as photosensitive epilepsy in which seizures are triggered by flashing lights or highly contrasting patterns. Excessive gaming exposes players to these conditions, which can trigger seizure episodes.

Kids may pick up wrong values

In games where violent and aggressive behavior is rewarded while negotiation and other non-violent solutions aren’t, it’s easy for the player to adopt such values. Women are also often portrayed as weaker characters and are helpless or sexually provocative.

Another possibility is isolation. As we mentioned initially, video game players are playing on their own 44% of the time – no friends and no company. This makes kids socially isolated, which is risky in itself.

However, the bigger dangers are the ripple effects of isolation. Kids spend less time reading, doing homework, or playing sports. They interact with friends and family less. Also, those who play online may interact and become friends with people of low moral values who may introduce them to all kinds of risky behavior.

8 Steps Parents Can Take to Make Video Games More Fun and Less of a Risk

Game On Off

As we’ve seen, video games can be incredibly valuable for young gamers. However, that’s only possible if the parent steps in to help the young players enjoy their games in a controlled and safe manner. The following are seven tips to consider;

Choose who they game with: Block out strangers and restrict the people your kids can play video games with, online or offline. Select only a group of approved friends, kind of like a gamer buddy list.

Mute if necessary: This is especially true for online games. If you’re not around, you don’t want your kid talking to or chatting with just anyone. The “Mute” feature is designed for this purpose – to stop them from texting or calling anyone without your permission.

Monitor their play: Most online gaming services allow parents to log into their child’s account and view what they do during play. With whom do they interact? What type of games do they play? These are just some of the things to monitor.

Be involved: Being involved means being there, proactively involved in your kid’s gaming life. Keep the console in a common area where you can keep an eye and ear on their action and establish an ongoing dialog about their gaming.

Ensure they don’t disclose: Teach your kids never to divulge personal or financially sensitive information about themselves or family members. This is especially possible when a player is filling profiles, purchasing items, or interacting with other players.

Set time limits: Addiction is the primary cause of the negative impacts of gaming we discussed earlier. Don’t allow addiction to creep into your child. Set and discuss limits on what the kid can do on the internet and how long they can play games.

Beware of cyberbullies: Bullying has become rampant in the gaming world. You must pick up the signs quickly to protect your kid from the bullies.

Speak up about your concerns: If you don’t like something about their gaming time, you’re allowed to raise a complaint with the game publisher. Be sure to provide as much information as possible about the player in question.

You Can Do It

You can help your kid(s) enjoy playing video games without the risk of addiction, health impacts, or developing aggressive and violent behavior. You can also protect them from the bullies and risky characters.

But, you can only do this by being around, being involved, and being informed. Play with them from time to time, talk to them about the benefits and dangers of online/offline gaming, and always read parental guides to learn more ways to keep your kid safe out there.