Kids have been interested in video games ever since they were created. And if you’re old enough to have children of your own, you’re probably old enough to remember the hours you spent in front of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda or Sonic the Hedgehog.
Today’s games are more complicated, more immersive, more collaborative and often more time-consuming. And today’s parents are often concerned about whether they should be allowing their children to be spending so much time in these virtual worlds.
We asked Kristin Anderson, CEO and Co-Founder of FITGMR, about the pros and cons of letting your kids play video games.
“Gaming is beneficial and fun,” Anderson told us. “It’s a hobby, an outlet, a way to connect with friends and a form of play.” Video games can also help your kids build important cognitive skills. “Gaming teaches critical thinking, and gaming definitely trains split-second decision making!”
That said, some parents may want to use their child’s interest in gaming as an opportunity to teach their children another important life skill: How to balance work, play, family, friends, nutrition, exercise and sleep. “Young people are often unfamiliar with the concept of holistic health,” Anderson says. “But people who develop healthy habits in adolescence carry those healthy habits into adulthood.”
Here’s how parents can help their children develop these healthy habits—while still enjoying all of the benefits of gaming.
In this article:
What are the benefits of gaming?
“Gaming is like a high intensity workout for the brain,” says Anderson. “For anyone looking to push cognitive limits—that’s what gaming does.”
Many parents understand that popular games like Minecraft can help their children become interested in engineering, programming or other key STEM skills—which, in turn, could help them at school or in their future careers. However, parents don’t always understand the other cognitive benefits of video gaming.
Because most video games involve planning and strategy, the best video games can improve your children’s executive functioning skills. And if your kids are playing games with friends, either in-person or online, they may also build important team-building skills that could help them in the workplace.
Nearly every game teaches an applicable real-world skill, whether your kids are immersed in Fortnite, Super Mario Kart, or Plants vs. Zombies—so don’t feel like you necessarily need to force your children towards games with an obvious educational benefit. In fact, some of the biggest benefits could come from playing esports games like League of Legends.
“These games teach communication,” Anderson explains. “Listening to the way League of Legends players communicate in a match, including the speed at which each player picks up signals and cues from the other, is mind-blowing.”
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Which games are best for cognitive development?
If you want to know which video games are best for your child’s brain, here’s Anderson’s advice: “Look for games that are multidimensional, train quick-response times, and require significant activity between the brain and hands for mousing, keyboarding, and so on.”
These games might include Minecraft, Fortnite, Rocket League, Valorant, League of Legends or Overwatch. Or they might be esports games like NBA2K, Madden, or EAFC (formerly FIFA). Your kids may also become interested in classic games like chess—which is available in numerous video game versions, not to mention the online resources at Chess.com—or narrative role-playing games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley that allow them to interact with various characters and empathize with different points of view.
“Any of these games can be tools for cognitive growth,” Anderson explains.
When should parents be worried about too much gaming?
“Gaming becomes too much when it interferes with their child’s success in other areas of their life,” says Anderson.
As a parent, it might be easy for you to see when your child is putting too much time into gaming and not enough time into other activities. If you’re not sure what to watch for, here is Anderson’s list: “Not getting enough sleep, losing interest in school, not wanting to go outside and play, or gaming at the expense of other things they used to enjoy.”
Parents may also want to step in if their child’s gaming habit has crowded out other healthy habits—especially physical activity and exercise. “While beneficial in many ways, gaming is a sedentary activity,” Anderson explains. “Kids need physical activity to stay healthy, grow and excel. If gaming comes at the expense of physical activity it may signal a time for change.”
How can parents encourage their children’s mental and physical health while gaming?
FITGMR has created a model called The Five Pillars of Health that parents can use to encourage positive mental and physical habits while gaming. Anderson offered us a quick overview of each key area:
- Physical maintenance: “The need to maintain the physical body through movement via exercise for strength, stamina and cognitive performance—yes, there are workouts that make you smarter!—and yoga for flexibility, posture and mind-body connection.”
- Mental conditioning: “Training the brain to respond vs. react, emotional regulation, self awareness, creating a gamer’s mindset and using tools like breathing exercises and meditation to learn to calm and restore the mind.”
- Nutrition: “In order to play sustainably gamers need to eat sustainably. What we eat affects how we play, think and react. We focus on the importance of healthy meals and staying hydrated, while teaching kids about the toxic nature of sugar and the downside of too much caffeine and fast food.”
- Sleep: “Physical and mental rest cannot be compromised. Our brain needs sleep to process all we’ve learned and our body and nervous system need sleep to function properly. We teach gamers how to get good sleep!”
- Lifestyle: “What are you doing away from the keyboard? Are you spending time outdoors, are you spending time with friends and family, are you engaging in hobbies aside from gaming? This pillar is all about teaching young people the importance of balance in a busy, busy world.”
Gaming really is all about balance, as those of us who grew up navigating Mario and Luigi through Bowser’s numerous fortresses can fully understand! If you’re worried about your own children falling into the pit of excessive gaming, see if you can make your home into the kind of balanced environment where games, meals, schoolwork and sleep all have their place—not to mention playgrounds, books, and the kinds of sports that don’t necessarily begin with an e.
And remember, there are a lot of benefits to playing video games, even if some of those benefits won’t become clear until your children grow up and start using what they’ve learned.
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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.
Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
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