The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that 4 out of 5 American families own a device used to play video games. According to their recommendation, children should limit their overall screen time — including time spent using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer and television.
The AAP recommends limiting non-educational screen time to what's left after school-age children have gone to school, done homework, enjoyed social contact with friends and family, eaten all meals, performed at least one hour of physical activity and gotten a good night's sleep. That doesn't leave a whole lot of time for healthy gaming.
Dr. Ahmad Bailony, a pediatrician affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, says that while there are some benefits to gaming, there are a few ways parents can make sure their kids' habits are thoughtful, appropriate and enhance — rather than hinder — their daily life.
How can gaming affect a child's overall health and well-being?
Too much time using digital media in the wrong way is linked to adverse effects on children's quality of sleep, development and physical health.
The AAP warns that excessive screen use can increase the risk of obesity. It can also take away from developing important social skills. Learning to talk to people and develop communication and social skills is important for future success and happiness in work, family life and social life.
Furthermore, an international study found that children who regularly play video games with weapons are more likely to develop aggressive behaviors and symptoms of depression. Another risk is that sex offenders may use online games to contact and exploit children, and players could become victims of cyberbullying.
What warning signs should parents look for in their children who play video games?
Gaming is meant to be a fun activity that enhances your child's life, not one that creates problems. Parents should look out for the following warning signs:
- Playing for increasing amounts of time
- Thinking about gaming during other activities
- Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety or depression
- Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
- Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming
How can parents help kids appropriately enjoy gaming?
Know what your kids are playing. Video games have a ratings system just like movies do, and these are important for parents to review. Parents should consider whether each game played is appropriate for their child's age.
Keep the video game console in a common area of the house, not your child's room. That way, you can catch any inappropriate content in the games they're playing, and they'll be in a position to interact with others in the house while they're playing. Also, pay attention to time spent playing games on smartphones and tablets.
Can gaming offer positive benefits?
In some cases, gaming is beneficial. Experts have found that compared with non-players, children who invest less than one-third of their daily free time playing video games showed higher levels of pro-social behavior and life satisfaction, and lower levels of conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems and emotional symptoms.
Talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child's media habits or are seeing warning signs of digital or gaming addiction. Learn more about creating a healthy digital plan for your family from the AAP at healthychildren.org.