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While in-person activities have greatly diminished during the COVID pandemic, kids have tried hard to find ways to remain connected with their peers, while also being socially distanced. This new situation provided the perfect ground for the video gaming era to receive a major boost, with parents hardly knowing what to do to pull their kids away from their computers and back to real life as restrictions are starting to ease.
Video gaming stems from a multi-billion industry, making their products incredibly realistic and sophisticated; especially the multiplayer genre adds a social component to the overall design, making it almost irresistible to kids currently being socially distanced. However, adults know that not all people online are a child’s friend, and thus worry even more about not-so-friendly people having even more ways to contact their children.
But how does this new reality affect our children?
Research is clear: Video games and applications that are interactive and educational have a positive effect on children’s brain development, while violent and exclusively entertaining media have a negative impact on children’s brain development.
Studies are now showing that children repeatedly exposed to violence can become immune and numb to it, they imitate brutality more and are more aggressive towards their peers. Overall, the more realistic the game, the greater the impact it can have on children’s development. Kids are now becoming obsessed with who they can kill and in what way will get them even higher online scores. Some children have even chosen this as their primary source of dopamine increase in their brain.
Too much time spent online mindlessly can lead to poor social skills, alienation from family bonds, lower grades, having aggressive behavior towards the self and others.
On the other hand, educational games can help even young kids (preschoolers) learn how to code, learn to read, and do mathematics. A strong alliance with a specific ingame character can give even more boost for the child to learn hard concepts, such as addition and multiplication, even at a young age. A study showed that ‘exergames’ (games that combine exercise and learning) help kids improve fast and accurate decision-making skills.
It is important to note here that most research has been done with preschoolers and adolescents, so very little is still known about the impact of prolonged online presence in middle schoolers (ages 6-12).
To finish, some quick tips for parents:
Overall, take this opportunity to teach your child how to make proper decisions about themselves, establish boundaries, learn what is best for them versus what is easy/fun, and keep the rules even when you are not present (if they go to a friend’s house). Please understand that, in the long run, your child having a healthy and safe online presence at a young age can prove to be a blessing in disguise, as the world and the economy are now marching towards a very real online environment at a quicker than ever pace.