Kids and gaming: psychology today

psychology today article on children and computer play


“Why would we want to limit a kid’s computer time? The computer is, without question, the single most important tool of modern society. Our limiting kids’ computer time would be like hunter-gatherer adults limiting their kids’ bow-and-arrow time. Children come into the world designed to look around and figure out what they need to know in order to make it in the culture into which they are born. They are much better at that than adults are. That’s why they learn language so quickly and learn about the real world around them so much faster than adults do. That’s why kids of immigrant families pay more attention to the language spoken by their new peers, in the new culture, than to the old language spoken by their parents. That’s also why, whenever there’s a new technological innovation, kids learn how to use it more quickly than their parents do. They know, instinctively, what they must learn in order to succeed.

Why do we keep hearing warnings from “authorities”–including the American Academy of Pediatricians–that we must limit kids’ computer play? Some of the fear mongering comes, I think, from a general tendency on the part of us older folks to distrust any new media. Plato, in The Republic, argued that plays and poetry should be banned because of their harmful effects on the young. When writing came about and became technically easier, and was enthusiastically seized upon by the young, some of their elders warned that this would rot their minds; they would no longer have to exercise their memories. When printed novels became available to the masses, many warned that these would lead the young, especially girls and young women, to moral degeneracy. When televisions began to appear in people’s homes, all sorts of dire warnings were sounded about the physical, psychological, and social damage they would cause.

Video games have been under attack by the fear-mongers ever since they first appeared, and the attacks have not diminished. If you Google around the Internet using harmful effects of video games as a search phrase, you will find all sorts of frightening claims. One site warns that video games can cause depression, physical aggression, poor sleep, somatic complaints, obesity, attention disorders, and … the list went on. The only malady they seemed to have left out was housemaid’s knee.

The most common complaints about video games are that they (1) are socially isolating, (2) reduce opportunities for outdoor activities and thereby lead to obesity and poor physical health, and (3) promote violence in kids, if the games have violent content. On the face of it, of course, the first two of these claims should be truer of book reading than of video gaming. Concerning the third claim, I don’t see any obvious reason why pretend murder of animated characters in video games should be any more likely to provoke real murder than, say, reading Shakespeare’s account of Hamlet’s murder of his stepfather. Yet we make kids read Hamlet in school.”


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