Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
As the grandfather of two teen-aged grandchildren, I read with interest your column “Grandparents Worry About Grandchildren’s Excessive Screen Time.” Reading the information about fears of video addiction reminded me of a friend’s daughter, Sandra. She spent hours and hours on her computer playing games. It bothered me that this seemed just fine with her parents.
I thought Sandra was just shy and uncomfortable around people. I have since learned that she has been diagnosed as having characteristics of autistic spectrum disorder [ASD: displaying traits such as awkwardness in social situations, restricted interests, or repetitive patterns of behavior].
I now understand why her parents and grandparents actually encourage her use of screen time, because when she is playing interactive games, she is connecting with other kids. This socializing is good for her. Knowing this has made me less negative about kids who seem glued to their iPhones and computers.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
Of course, concern is warranted when kids play video games to the exclusion of other activities, but your example of Sandra’s use of gaming as a vehicle for socializing is a good reminder that there are upsides to kids’ playing video games.
For example, Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor in educational psychology at Boston College, has identified several cognitive benefits of kids’ playing video games, including:
- Improves coordination.
- Improves problem-solving skills.
- Enhances memory.
- Improves attention and concentration.
- Is a great source of learning.
- Improves the brain’s speed.
- Enhances multitasking skills.
- Improves social skills.
Dr. Gray has published several articles about the educational value of gaming, including:
- “The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games”
- “Video Game Addiction: Does It Occur? If So, Why?”
- “Cognitive Benefits of Playing Games”
- “Benefits of Play Revealed in Research on Gaming”
Here are some thought-provoking quotes from these articles:
- “I ask you to consider the possibility that the kid is learning more valuable lessons at the computer than at school, in part becausethe computer activity is self-chosen and the school activity is not.”
- “The most common complaints about video games are that they (1) are socially isolating, (2) reduce opportunities for outdoor activities and thereby lead to obesity and poor physical health … these claims should be truer of book reading than of video gaming.”
- “…video games are games of skill. They are like chess or any other game in which success depends on perseverance, intelligence, practice, and learning, not chance. The rewards are not random; they are earned. To move up to the next level you have to work hard.”
- “…[Gamers] are bombarded by messages from the larger culture suggesting that gaming is a sign of laziness, is ‘addictive,’ and leads to all sorts of ill effects, and so they become concerned about their gaming … There is no reason why a dedicated video gamer should feel any worse about his or her hobby than a dedicated chess player or skier.”
- “Many studies indicate that video games improve job performance, especially for jobs that require good eye-hand coordination, attention, excellent working memory, and quick decision-making.”
- “By now, many dozens of studies have examined psychological correlates of and consequences of video gaming, and, taken as a whole, the results overwhelmingly support the idea that video gaming produces many of the same kinds of benefits as other forms of play.”
Video Games Are “Programming Better People”
Also noteworthy is an article suggesting 15 ways that video games are “programming better people.” Huh? Programming better people? Yes, you read that right!
An initial response in looking at this list might be “No way,” but reading the underlying rationale for each may prove enlightening.
Note: Based on my own research, I have included two additional resources with related information that supports each of the 15 ways video games are deemed beneficial.
- Are producing better surgeons. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Could help people overcome dyslexia. [Related information: 1, 2.]
- Could improve your vision. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Could help make you a better leader. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Could pique your interest in history. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Can make kids more active. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Might slow down the aging process. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Might help ease pain. [Related information: 1, 2]
- Can help you make new social connections. [Related information: 1, 2]
Gaming Is Helping Children With Medical and Developmental Challenges
I close by referencing three ways in which gaming is helping children heal and/or deal with a developmental disorder.
- For children undergoing cancer treatment, distraction therapy, as the name suggests, provides an alternative focus to minimize children’s fears and anxiety.
Research, cited by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, investigated the effect of an interactive computer game on the QOL (quality of life) of children undergoing chemotherapy. According to the findings of this study, computer games can be used to improve the QOL of children undergoing chemotherapy.
- In a study looking at the impact of video games when used be children with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder), an important finding was that parents of ASD children were highly supportive of video games; both they and their children were positive about gaming.
- Zach Wigal, founder of Gamers Outreach, was named as a Top Ten Hero of 2019 by CNN (scroll down to end of list to read about Mr. Wigal).
“Zach Wigal turned his favorite hobby into a nonprofit that brings gaming consoles — and relief — to kids with chronic illnesses. Wigal is the founder of Gamers Outreach which makes sure that children who can’t leave their hospital rooms during long-term medical treatment can play video games while they recuperate. He helped design “GoKarts,” portable carts equipped with a gaming console and an array of video games that are easily rolled into a patient’s room. The carts are now in more than 150 hospitals across the country.”
(Photograph from Gamers Outreach Website)
My final comment about the benefits of video games: I hope this column has helped readers better understand that while some parents and grandparents say to kids, “Go read,” or “Go play,” others say, “Go game!”
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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