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Kids & Video Games: How much is too much?

School is out, and the excitement of summer days spent at the pool or day camp may be wearing off for some kids. If your kids are starting to turn into video game junkies, here's what the experts say is too much screen time and some tips on cutting back.

What the Experts Say

It should come as no surprise that electronic games have the potential to influence young people, but these influences can be both positive and negative. According to an Oxford University study that polled thousands of kids age 10-15 about their gaming habits and emotional states, researchers concluded that one hour is the limit for healthy gaming. Children who played games one hour or less per day reported being more satisfied and social, while children who played between one and three hours had no significant positive or negative effects. Meanwhile, kids who played more than three hours of games per day were more prone to attention span and hyperactivity issues than their peers.

A Spanish study published in the Annals of Neurology suggests that kids who play video games for more than an hour per day are more likely to develop behavioral problems. However, kids who enjoy just an hour or two of gaming per week may actually experience cognitive benefits, such as faster response time. Researchers also conducted MRI scans of children’s brains and noticed functional brain changes in gamers that weren’t present in non-gamers.

Emotional and Physical Health

The biggest risk of prolonged video game playing for children is lack of exercise. Summer is an ideal time to enjoy the great outdoors, try new activities, and spend time with friends and family. Each additional hour that is spent on the couch and in front of a screen is a missed opportunity for exercise and living a healthy lifestyle.

The American Psychological Association confirmed that there is a definite link between playing violent video games and feelings of aggression. Although researchers can’t be sure if this aggression necessarily leads to criminal violence and delinquency, video games have been proven to decrease prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity. Playing video games all day can also make children socially isolated and hinder social development skills that are key to success later in life.

A paper published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture explains how video games can affect children’s attention spans by boosting concentration in short bursts but decreasing long-term concentration abilities. However, this phenomenon isn’t just linked to video games because watching too much television can have a similar effect. A Pediatrics study found that video games and television impact children’s attention spans in the same way because modern TV shows are so exciting and fast-paced that the real world feels dull and boring. These researchers concluded that elementary school children who engaged in either activity for more than two hours per day were 67 percent more likely to have more attention span problems than their peers.

Healthy Alternatives

With so many exciting games being released every month, dragging your kids away from the screen can be a challenge. As a starting place, it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s video game play and steer kids towards games that have some educational value. It’s also a wise idea to put video game consoles and computers in common areas of the home instead of children’s bedrooms so that gaming activities can be monitored more easily.

You can also steer your kids towards family-friendly, multi-player games that can serve as bonding activities. For both kids and adults, the pervasive nature of social media and digital communication have led to the decline of person-to-person interactions, but there truly is no replacement for genuine human connection. Encourage your kids to join summer activities and sports teams so that they can interact with their peers in a non-virtual environment and offset any of the negative effects that may result from gaming sessions.

After letting your kids play their favorite video game for up to an hour per day, here are some fun and healthy activities to get them off the couch to fully enjoy the blissful days of summer. Break your youngster’s gaming addiction early by giving your kids options that are just as fun and engaging!

  • Join a game of pick-up basketball at the local park.
  • Make a new recipe together to pack for a picnic.
  • Volunteer at a local charity that holds special meaning for your family.
  • Spend an afternoon at a nearby museum.
  • Create a masterpiece with sidewalk chalk.
  • Go camping, or even just set up a tent in the backyard!