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Surprise! Video games have benefits

girl playing Wii game while family watches
Playing video games helps kids develop hand-eye coordination.

Editor’s note: This post was updated July 2016 to include information on newly released games.

Video games have gotten a bad rap.

They’ve been blamed for school shootings, bullying and the rise in childhood obesity.

But do the games that occupy some kids for hours have any benefit?

Yes, according to Marshfield Clinic pediatrician Dr. Keith Pulvermacher.

“There are pros and cons to playing video games, and one side doesn’t completely negate the other,” he said.

Gain skills from gaming

  • Hand-eye coordination. Kids who play video games, especially first-person games, develop hand-eye coordination and a good sense of spatial orientation, Pulvermacher said. These are important job skills for pilots, surgeons, mechanics and fabricators.
  • Tech savvy. Video game systems are always evolving. Kids who stay up to date are likely to keep up with and understand changes to other technology.
  • Decision-making. Studies have shown people who regularly play video games are better at decision-making than non-gamers.
  • Problem-solving. Kids must search, plan and try different strategies to get to the next level in their game.
  • Physical fitness. Interactive and augmented reality games like Pokemon Go get players exercising, which improves physical and mental health.

The downside to video games

  • Too much screen time can lead to obesity, Pulvermacher said. Kids spend on average six hours a day looking at TV screens, computer monitors and handheld devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than two hours a day and encouraging kids to do physical activity during their free time.
  • Video games can desensitize kids to violence.
  • Online gaming can expose kids to inappropriate language and messages from other players, even if the game itself isn’t violent or inappropriate.
  • Augmented reality gamers may become victims of falls, auto-pedestrian accidents and violence if they aren’t aware of their surroundings.

Make gaming a good experience

Young boy playing games on a mobile phone - Video gaming benefits
Young children should be accompanied by an adult when playing augmented reality games like Pokemon Go. Both you and your child should be aware of objects, traffic and people around you.

Age-appropriate games will help kids reap the benefits of playing video games. Ratings are helpful in deciding whether a game is appropriate, but Pulvermacher recommends parents play new games with their kids to judge their content.

Parents can monitor content and screen time by setting up video game systems or computers used for gaming in common areas of the house, and screen time limits can be programmed on some devices.

Accompany children playing augmented reality games like Pokemon Go. Older kids should play in groups and know where they’re allowed to walk without adult supervision. Players should always be aware of obstacles, traffic and people around them. Don’t cross the street, bike, skateboard or drive while playing.

The bottom line? Video games aren’t all bad. If your kids like gaming, they can gain valuable skills if parents help them balance playing age-appropriate video games with other activities.

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