By Scott Alexander
Playing video games will neither turn your kids into geniuses nor make them violent or obese -- but don't try telling the news media that. We asked several experts to look past the hysteria and give us their take on what games can do to (and for) kids. This is what they said.
Are video games bad?
"Asking whether video games are good or bad is like asking if TV is good or bad," says Dimitri Christakis, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and a researcher on children and media. "The answer largely depends on the game and how much it's being played."
Will gaming make my kid fat?
Probably not, says Christakis. "People assume playing video games is a sedentary activity and therefore leads to obesity, but there is no evidence of that. Too much TV watching is associated with packing on pounds because of food advertisements and the fact that it's easy to eat while viewing, but games don't involve food ads, and your hands are occupied, so you don't eat while you play."
Can video games make my child become violent?
Expert opinions differ on whether there's a connection between video game violence and real-world violence. Youth violence has sharply declined as video game consumption has skyrocketed, which would seem to suggest there is little to no connection. Keep in mind, the way an individual child reacts to violent content varies vastly with age, maturity, and emotional makeup. Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson, co-author of Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents (Oxford University Press), says, "Video games are wonderful teaching tools. If the game encourages positive or pro-social behavior or is educational in a positive way, that's what the child will take away. If the game teaches how to solve problems with violent behavior, they're going to learn that too."
Is video game addiction real?
Yes, but it's rare, and typically a symptom of larger issues. "We're talking a small segment of kids who might be a bit unstable or having a difficult time in another part of their life. Often there's a history of addictive behavior in their family, or depression, anxiety disorders, or alcoholism," says psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Computer Addiction Service at McLean Hospital. "The game is not the problem."
Should parents play games with their kids?
A thousand times yes. The experts were practically unanimous: The only way to know about the games your kid plays is to play them yourself, at least a little bit. Think of it as a chance to interact with your kid in his own airspace, which can be fun for both of you.