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The (Um, Obvious) Key to Parental Decisions About Video Games

3852509664_bfd9946ea1.jpgA study was recently published in the journal Pediatrics about teens and video games, and it is further proof that when it comes to making decisions about video games and kids, the best guiding principle parents can use is...

Common sense.

The study, entitled "Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment," looked at the video game habits of about five thousand kids in the United Kingdom between the ages of 10 and 15. They asked them how much time they spend playing video games (on a console or a computer). They also looked at various measures of emotional and behavioral problems, relationships and life satisfaction.

They found that kids who played an hour or less a day actually did better on all the measures--they had better behavior and were happier with life--than those who didn't play any at all. The ones who played 3 hours or more did worse--and there wasn't much of an effect for the ones in between.

There are a couple of big caveats with the study. First of all, the differences between the groups were really small; it's not like the kids who played less than an hour were perfect children who were wonderfully happy and those who played for 3 hours or more were depressed delinquents. Second, the study didn't look at the kind of games they played, which is really pretty crucial given some of the sex- and violence-filled games out there.

But the bottom line, really, is that as with any other activity in a kid's life, video gaming can be either good or bad. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about video games and kids--besides the exposure to sex and violence in some games (which can lead to early sexual activity, and aggression), there's the simple fact that video gaming can end up crowding out other more healthy activities. Like exercise. Or reading. Or schoolwork. Or talking to people.

But there are also ways that video games can be good. They can be social. They can foster creativity and visual-spatial skills (my 8-year-old has built some outrageously innovative and interesting buildings on Minecraft). They can be a way to relax and escape for a little while, something that can make all the difference for some children. There's some interesting ongoing research about using video games to help kids with ADHD or emotional problems--and to help overweight kids get more active.

So, parents....use common sense. Which involves being involved (read: actually knowing everything that goes on in a video game, and knowing exactly how long your children are playing them) and thoughtful. Don't ignore the ratings; you may have a very "mature" 10-year-old, but the reason they suggest 17 as the lower age for games rated Mature is that they:"May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language." Is that really how you want your 10-year-old to spend his or her time? I hope not.

Speaking of common sense, there's a great website called Common Sense Media that has in-depth reviews of video games (and all sorts of different kinds of media), including some information the manufacturers might not tell you (like the details of that blood and gore and sexual content). Do your homework.

And also speaking of common sense...make sure that the video games get shut off and that your kids get outside and read books and play with toys and build stuff and otherwise, well, be kids. Even better: do it with them.

Photo credit: © 2009 OakleyOriginals, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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