Canadians—kids and adults alike—spend a lot of time playing video games. Over two hours a day on average, actually. And we don’t need to tell you that an awful lot of people, from doctors to teachers to parents, are worried about the effect video games have on kids.
You shouldn’t worry, though. Study after study has found that video games aren’t bad for your kids and maybe even provide a few benefits.
Video Games Help Kids Read
Did you ever imagine that video games—even non-text heavy ones—can help kids learn to read? Even if they have dyslexia? Well, they can.
Researchers at Oxford had dyslexic kids play 80 minutes of Rayman Raving Rabbids, a Wii game, for nine days. It’s a game full of minigames, some action-oriented, some not. Afterwards, kids who played the action-oriented minigames read faster and more accurately thanks to the fact that the action-oriented minigames made them better at paying attention and respond more quickly. When kids were tested two months later, the effect was still there.
The approach has been adopted by educators too. More than half a million students in the US have completed a game-based dyslexia program called Fast ForWords, improving their reading.
Video Games Improve Kids Eyesight
Multiple studies (like this one and this one) have found that video gamers really do have better eyesight than the rest of us. They have higher contrast resolution and better spatial resolution. That is, they’re better able to distinguish symbols on an eye chart. In fact, regular gamers can see an extra 1.5 lines on an eye chart.
Video Games Can Improve a Kid’s Social Skills
The stereotype of the lonely, isolated gamer is a dated one indeed. More than 70% of gamers play in a social context, either with others online or with friends in the same living room. A recent study found that not only does playing cooperative games make gamers more cooperative during gameplay, that spirit of cooperation carries over to the real world.
Video Games Teach Kids Failure
Failing is important. Not only is failing at something important for learning about motivation, failure can teach kids resilience, and it’s important to learn how to fail gracefully.
Video games can do that. In a study that saw kids play lots of round of Angry Birds, researchers found that kids were able to learn to better cope with failing and suggested that this could lead to better emotional resilience in their daily lives.
Video Games Help Pain Management
The next time you take your kid to get a shot, the nurse may just hand them an iPad. Why? Keep ‘em distracted.
Multiple studies have shown that kids are better able to handle pain when they’re distracted by a game. Interactivity is key here; the effect isn’t as strong with something like a TV show.
Video games can help kids dealing with more serious pain too. A study that looked at pain management in kids coping with chemotherapy and serious burns found that virtual reality video games reduced their anxiety and even made them think procedures were shorter than they really were.
Hospitals are even looking to games to improve health care. SickKids in Toronto has launched an app to help kids manage pain in a way more interactive and fun than writing a journal.
Video Games Aren’t Linked to Conduct Problems
A UK study that tracked 11,000 kids over ten years, which is a pretty massive study, found that video games weren’t linked to “conduct problems, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, [or] hyperactivity/inattention.”
The study did reveal something more interesting though: all those problems did correlate with more TV watching. The authors write that “watching TV for 3 h or more daily at 5 years predicted increasing conduct problems between the ages of 5 years and 7 years.” However, the authors note that this may be because parents are more likely to pay attention to monitor what games their kids play than what TV they watch.
All things in moderation. Study after study shows benefits in kids who play a moderate amount of video games see benefits—it’s after three hours per day that you start to see negative outcomes like anti-social behaviour and hyperactivity. Let ‘em play, but monitor away.