Video Games: Practical Approaches
by David Perlmutter, MD, FACN
Video games are usually played on video game consoles (such as XBox, Playstation, or Nintendo) and require a gamepad (formerly called a joystick) to maneuver through the game, but they can also be played on computers with the appropriate hardware or with hand held devices.
Video games have been around for more than three decades, yet they seem to become more controversial with each passing year. When it comes to video games, there is no shortage of critics who say that these games are corrupting our youth - it's harder to find someone who has anything positive to say about them. Video games are an easy target. For one thing, many of the most popular games are incredibly violent and contain sexual content that is definitely not for children, although the games may fall into their hands. There are hundreds of games that are not violent and are age appropriate but they don't get the same kind of publicity. Perhaps because it is a newer medium, there are far fewer studies exploring the impact of video games on children than that of television, and the few studies that have been done show a link between aggressive behavior and playing video games with violent content.
Parents are understandably concerned about the long term impact of video games on their kids. Like television, video games are seductive to young minds because they are also very stimulating to the sensory portions of the brain. If given a choice, many kids, especially boys, would spend every free moment gaming.
According to the National Institute on Family and Media, the average child plays video games around nine hours a week, and that's not counting the twenty-five or so hours spent watching TV, or time on the computer.
Video games appear to have a greater allure for males than females about 70 percent of the players of the most popular console-type games are male, but that could be due to the fact that the games are typically very male oriented.
Set Strict Age Limits
Video games are not appropriate for children under the age of 3. First, they don't have the manual dexterity to manipulate a game pad. Second, they should be doing other things with their time. Third, they can hurt themselves. Their hands and arms are not developed enough to sustain the strain of video game playing.The repetitive motion of manipulating the game pad can damage tendons in the arm and hand. Even older children need to be careful about developing repetitive stress syndrome from overplaying video games, but younger children are especially vulnerable.
Choose Age Appropriate Games
By around age 3, some children may be ready to play age appropriate games, preferably ones that are designed for a preschool-aged child and are not violent. If you have older children at home, be vigilant that younger children do not use their games. Games designed for schoolaged children can be surprisingly violent. Some manufacturers of educational toys offer interactive products that resemble video games, but unlike standard action video games, these games promote reading and math skills. These include products produced by Leap Frog, Fisher-Price, and the V.Smile TV learning system. Children seem to enjoy them, but it's a rare child who will be happy to play these games exclusively once he sees the real thing.
Set Strict Time Limits
As with TV, excess playing of video games can prevent a child from getting enough physical activity, which can lead to obesity. Moreover, if children play video games by themselves for hours on end, they may not learn appropriate social skills necessary for success in school and in life. Don't allow your child to play video games for more than thirty minutes daily. Period.
The two real problems with video games are: (1) time spent playing them and (2) content. Parents have control over both of these factors.
Copyright 2006 by David Perlmutter, MD, FACN and Carol Colman, from Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten by David Perlmutter,
MD, FACN and Carol Colman, published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Perlmutter Health Center
To make an appointment with Dr. Perlmutter at his office in Naples, FL.
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