As parents, we focus more attention on the potential dangers than on the potential benefits of electronic video games, but these games are a normal part of modern childhood. If you know what to look for, video games can be a powerful tool to help children develop certain life skills. They can help parents choose appropriate leisure-time games, help educators seek ways to supplement classroom teaching, and help game developers create games that teach.
Recently, I wrote a research paper called “Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development” that was featured in the Review of General Psychology. The research included results from studies I led at Harvard Medical School and survey data compiled from interviewing over 1,000 public school students. Based on my research, here are eight reasons why video games can be beneficial to your child’s growth and education
Video games can help children’s brain development. When my son was a young adolescent, I watched him play Legend of Zelda games. He had to search, negotiate, plan, and try different approaches to advance. Many recent games, such as Bakugan: Defenders of the Core, involve planning and problem-solving. “Modding,” the process by which players customize gamer characters’ appearance and develop new game levels, also allows for creative self-expression, deep understanding of game rules and structure, and new ways of highlighting personalities and interests. Video games don’t have to be labeled “educational” to help children learn to make decisions, use strategies, anticipate consequences and express their personalities.
Roughly one-third of the children we studied said they played video games in part because they liked to teach others how to play. As one boy’s dad revealed during research, “Most of the interaction my son has with his buddies is about solving situations within a game. It’s all about how do you go from this place to that place, or collect the certain things that you need, and combine them in ways that are going to help you to succeed.” Some children gain status as the “go-to” kid who knows how to beat the toughest parts of a game. Teaching others builds social and communication skills, as well as patience.
Recently, I watched a friend’s 10-year-old daughter teach her how to play Guitar Hero. The game happened to include favorite songs from my friend’s teen and college years, which helped draw her in. The best part was seeing the daughter become an expert and share gaming skills with her mom–a reversal of the usual parent-child roles. Now that some video game systems are friendlier to novice players, it’s increasingly possible to share game time together. Plus, playing a video game side-by-side encourages easy conversation, which in turn may encourage your child to share her problems and triumphs with you.