Video Games - How Much is Ok?

Dear Parentworks, 

My boys are 5 and 7 and LOVE to play video games. That's all they'd do if I let them! How much is too much? And can it really affect their behavior? I've read that it might but I hear conflicting stories, meanwhile my boys really do fight a lot but I always thought it was just sibling rivalry. They will whine and complain until I give in and let them play the games. Sometimes I feel like it's the only peace we get at home. What's the story?

- Video Victims?

Dear Victim,

Many parents share your concerns. Their children would rather watch TV or play video games than play outside, eat dinner with the family or especially, do any schoolwork. In the past the studies have been inconclusive, but now research is clearly showing that there are connections between the amount of time children spend watching TV and video games and aggressive behavior.

Jane M. Healy, PhD. has written a number of books on this subject, including "Failure to Connect - How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds and what We Can Do About It". She discusses how there are  no other experiences in a child's life that permit so much passivity -sitting, watching, requiring no other interaction or input - than watching television. In the years between pre-school and kindergarten, a child's brain is going through a critical period of cognitive and language development. Brains develop connections between and within areas based upon the type of "exercise" the brain receives. While researches are still exploring the full implications, there is growing evidence that video and television watching can affect the brain's development. Intensive viewing could actually reduce necessary stimulation to the left side of the brain - the area critical for development of speech and language, reading and analytic thinking.

On the behavioral front; one of the observations they point to in the research is that there are no negative consequences in video games for violent or aggressive behavior. In fact, often the game rewards such negative or anti-social behavior. You may think your sons seem a little young for this one but I also share with parents that developmental specialists know that children begin forming their values at early ages and video games also generally portray women in a very sexualized and disrespectful way.

On the physical front; childhood obesity in now also being linked to the amount of time children spend sitting in front of those addictive games. Hours can go past without children, or adults who play these games, realizing how much of their day has been lost - and never regained, ever, ever again.

Setting limits on TV and video time is critical to ensuring that your children experience a balance of activities during their day. Ensuring that cooperation skills are developed, instead of whatever skill the video game is teaching. Because, believe me, your children are learning. What you need to decide is; Is what they're learning taking them toward the young men you want them to be? Often parents have to choose between short term and long term parenting goals. So if your goal is to keep quietly occupied with TV/video, until a fight erupts then you may want to simply continue. If, on the other hand, your short term peace and quiet will be disrupted while you help your sons with the long term goals of complying with your rules and limits and while they learn to occupy themselves and get along, ultimately you'll all be better off.