Kids addicted to the screen? Roblox and Terraria driving you bonkers? Relax. Research shows that some games can actually positively benefit children’s development – yep, there are some kids’ computer games parents should encourage.
Leading child psychologist, academic and author, Collett Smart is calling for a new discussion about gaming and the positive effects it can have on our kids, based on research (see research links below) which reveals some video games can actually reinforce positive behaviours and habits in kids’ lives – from brushing teeth to going to bed on time.
So how do you sort the zombie-inducing time-wasting games from the goodies? Here, Collett explains what to look for in kids computer games and what to avoid!
Q. What makes a good game versus a bad game?
A. “I prefer not to use the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ technology because technology itself is actually neutral. All games have the ability to teach, but some games teach both excellent visual spatial skills and positive social skills at the same time. While playing a violent game, children are improving their visual special skills for example, but are also learning aggression. Games are excellent teachers and we can’t just separate the emotional behavioural skills from the cognitive skills being learned.
“In saying that we need to look out for games and technology that enhances our children’s lives. Aspects to look for include games and apps that:
- allow children to create something and encourage imagination
- teach language skills
- are interactive and require a child to make decisions
- encourage healthy off-screen habits
- encourage healthy socialisation.”
Q. Research reveals some video games can reinforce positive behaviours and habits in kids, such as brushing teeth, managing asthma and going to bed on time. How?
A. “There is some fascinating research into children’s behaviours. Particularly one study which looked at children with asthma (and others with illnesses). Children who played a game (Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus) that taught them how to better manage their symptoms and treatment, coped better with the initial effects of the illness, compared to those that did not have access to the game. Some games even teach children about sharing and helping behaviours. We call these ‘pro-social behaviours’.”
“What we want are games that transfer positive behaviours across into real time situations. A recent development is the Philips’ Sonicare for Kids Connected Toothbrush which has an app that works via Bluetooth. My youngest child is using it at the moment. There’s a little character called ‘Sparkly’ that you look after and mirror the character’s teeth brushing habits. The recommended two minutes for teeth brushing is so easy for my son because he’s following along to the character’s brushing instructions, while he watches the germs melt away in the game. It then rewards him with daily scenery changes, food to feed Sparkly, clothing changes etc. This game keeps the child coming back, while instilling a healthy long term habit. That’s what we look for – games that install healthy lifestyle habits that transfer off of the screen.”
Great games! Ready, set, learn…
Here’s a few positive and educational games I’ve used with my 8-year-old son, Maxwell.
- Skoolbo Aussie
- Reading Eggs
- Double Helix (fun science, maths, engineering and tech games and interactive activities by CSIRO)
- Behind the News
- ABC Me and ABC Me Games
- Alxemy (combining elements to create new elements and watch as you populate your world.)
- Spawn Point (game reviews, tips, news, coding and game development)
- Science Games
- Australian Museum (no games but great resource for learning about dinasaurs, fossils, spiders, ancient Egypt, birds and other exhibits)
- National Museum of Australia (Kspace, Gold Rush Game, Encounters, online activities and DIY at-home projects – click on ‘Education’)
Q. The Department of Health recommends 5–17 year olds spend no more than two hours a day playing kids’ computer games for entertainment. Does this include screen activities for homework and study?
A. “The recommended two hours really covers entertainment screen time, because children are often online doing research, reading a textbook or using a spelling app. Young children benefit from engaging in gross motor activities, physical touch and sensory activities and lots of social interaction with loved ones and carers. Their learning needs to come from places off of the screen primarily. However, it can be difficult to put a specific number on screen time if children also connect with family via skype for example.”
Q. What about social media?
“A lot of teen socialisation happens with social media (Snap Chat, Instagram etc) and these are often difficult to define as purely ‘entertainment’. For teens it is often an extension of their friendships and relationships, so it’s not a ‘bad’ thing if it’s used in a healthy manner and to enhance already existing friendships. But even teens need lots of off screen time engaging in sports, hobbies, family dinners and socialisation.”
“As much as social media and technology can increase or enhance relationships, they can also exacerbate issues for some teens that are already lonely or being hurt.”
Q. What are signs of excessive technology use?
A. “While most young people are able to use new technologies responsibly, maintaining active lives, healthy relationships and engagement at school, there is a small percentage who experience significant social, emotional, physical, and behavioral problems associated with excessive tech time.
“We need to look for signs, such as whether a child becomes withdrawn and uncommitted and begin to experience failure at school, breakdown of relationships and so on, and compulsively play for long periods. These children are at risk of problematic internet, screen-based use.”
“If internet use/gaming becomes a strategy for young people to deal with pre-existing issues, and begins to negatively affect their lives, then we need to look into the issue further. For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and other conditions will sometimes turn to immersive internet games and technology, as a way of managing their symptoms. But it is never effective.”
Q. What should parents teach kids about online gaming?
A. “It’s all about parent-child relationships and lots of communication. Talking about boundaries. My recommendation is the 3Cs: keep Current, keep Communicating and keep Checking.
- Technology should be used in public areas at home
- Set … time limits
- Content limits
- Age restrictions for apps and games
- Know passwords
- Watch movies and play games with your children and,
- Talk with your children about the content
- Teach children to look outward and think of others
- Balance online with offline activities
- Make use of logging software
- Talk, talk, talk
- Negotiate a technology contract!”
ABOUT: Collett Smart is working with Philips for the launch of Philips’ Sonicare for Kids Connected Toothbrush, encouraging kids to brush their teeth alongside ‘Sparkly’ a virtual character via a mobile app. Check out these research links for more information. Prosocial Video Games Instill Kindness, Helpfulness in Kids; Prosocial Video game Effects; A Literature Review of Gaming in Education; The Multiple Dimensions of Video Game Effects; The Benefits of Playing Video Games; Benefits of Gaming: What Research Shows; Long-Term Relations Among Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior.