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The Benefits Of Playing Video Games Are Real, According To Experts

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Parents have to play a balancing act when it comes to screen time in this increasingly digital world. When all your kid wants to do is play "Fortnite" for hours on end, it can be tough not to worry how it will affect their behavior. However, experts agree that not all of your kid's seemingly mindless gameplay is bad for them. Benefits of playing video games actually exist, so don't rage against that Xbox just yet.

“A growing number of experts are more accepting of the notion that video games can be powerful ways to educate and improve certain skills in kids and young adults,” Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist in New York City tells Romper. “But the types of video games matter."

Studies focused on young adults have shown positive brain benefits to certain games. Hafeez says some games can improve information retention, problem-solving, improve coordination, and develop decision-making skills. Puzzle games, such as "Tetris" and "Candy Crush," were shown to increase attention and visual-spatial ability (that skill that comes in handy when trying to read a map or find your way around a new place) in a 2013 study in the journal PLOS One. Real-time strategy games, think "Age of Empires," leverage kids' strategizing skills. One study concluded that navigating the multiple dimensions in strategy games increases cognitive flexibility, which is adapting knowledge and skills to changing situations. Even first and third-person shooter games like "Fortnite" can improve concentration, according to an article by pediatrician Jeffrey Ryan, M.D. of UNC Health. The article notes that for children who become addicted or otherwise have trouble regulating their emotions, that’s a negative impact that warrants talking to your child’s doctor about.

When parents see their kid parked in front of a TV or computer with a controller in their hands, it can spark concern over exposure to inappropriate or violent content and the interactions they’re having with people online. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended parents play video games with their kids to learn about the games their kids are playing in order to monitor content and ensure safe interactions with other players. The AAP also recommends limited screen time for kids in order to ensure that children get adequate rest, plenty of physical activity, and face-to-face interaction.

With age-appropriate games and informed parents, kids can reap these seven benefits of playing video games.

1. Provides Stress Relief

If you have ever zoned out in front of the TV after a stressful day, you can understand how playing video games might provide that same feeling for kids. Dr. Hafeez tells Romper that video games can provide stress relief for children.

"If a child has had a difficult day at school and has a limited window of time to let off steam with a video game, their level of stress will likely come down," she says. "And that will lead to a calmer child provided the video game is not one that incites graphic violence."

She notes that the full concentration of eyes, hands, and brain during video game play makes it a form of mindfulness that can take a child's mind off of stressful things. "Just like runners get a high, there is a certain type of pleasure that children receive when they beat their high score or win several games. At the end of the gaming session, this can leave them in a positive, upbeat mood," she says.

Again though, moderation is key to reaping these benefits. If your child has a hard time putting their controller down and stepping away or you notice significant mood changes that are not positive, Common Sense Media guidelines suggest parents address these concerns with their pediatrician.

2. Creates Connection

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Video games aren't just a solo endeavor. The popularity of online game play has created the opportunity for social connection through video games.

Parenting coach and author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, Maureen Healy, PhD., tells Romper that kids can form connections with other kids playing video games. "Connecting with other players or friends is socially beneficial, which actually helps a child feel more connected versus disconnected," Healy says.

Although I'm not much of a gamer, showing interest in my kids' video games has allowed me to connect with my kids over something they otherwise would have been doing alone.

Parents should monitor any online interaction, per the AAP. In addition to playing with your kids, their guidelines include talking to your kids about the dangers of predators and bullying, as well as setting privacy restrictions to ensure your child's safety.

3. Aids In Concentration

Ever stare at your child in disbelief as they remain locked into a trance-like state zipping and zapping away inside the fictional world of a video game? You may wonder what impact their game play has on their concentration. After all, they rarely concentrate on their homework or eating their vegetables as intensely.

"Every child is different and reacts or responds differently to external stimuli," Healy tells Romper. In this case, the external stimuli in question is video games, which she says some children have no problems at all concentrating on. "They are enjoying a game and feeling a state of flow, which aids concentration."

In fact, a study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that action video games help improve selective attention. The study examined 116 scholarly articles previously published about the impact of video games on the brain to determine their results, most of which used adolescents or young adults as their experimental group since that is the target video game demographic.

4. Creates A Feeling Of Empowerment

"Whether it's the video games like 'Minecraft' or 'Wizard World,' the ability to enter another world and feel empowered to make choices is valuable for boys and girls," Healy says.

When kids feel empowered, they gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, which can set them up to become successful decision-makers later on in life. Whether or not they gain this skillset through video game play or through what the adults in their life model, they're learning to trust themselves and their choices.

"Children need to do something that helps them feel they're in charge and expressing their unique talents, which some video games can do," Healy says. She does note that moderation is key with video game play. Children need a good mix of physical activity and person-to-person interaction above and beyond video games or they may begin to experience the negative effects of video gaming, according to Kids Health, which can include isolation and obesity.

5. Puts Problem-Solving Skills Into Practice

When kids engage in a video game, they often must use problem-solving skills to navigate challenges within the game. Whether it's through building a roller-coaster or battling bad guys, figuring out how to work through a difficult situation can provide problem-solving practice that studies have shown can translate into the real world.

The American Psychological Association's 2013 review of the effects of video game play in adolescents showed improved grades and problem-solving skills in kids who played strategic video games like "Angry Birds." Dr. Hafeez cites one study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence of high school students over four years that examined strategic game play. "Basically, the study concluded that strategic games predicted higher self-reported problem-solving skills and that higher self-reported problem-solving skills predicted better grades," she says.

6. Increased Mental Flexibility

The brain's ability to switch from one task to another is sometimes referred to as mental flexibility. Multiple studies on video games and cognition, such as one in Frontiers in Psychology, have concluded that video game players show an increased ability to effectively change from one task to another when compared to non-gamers. This increase in mental flexibility could be beneficial to kids as they move from one subject to the next throughout the course of the school day.

It can also have an impact on children with certain learning disabilities. A study in Current Biology addressed the impact of video games on students with dyslexia specifically by assigning kids with dyslexia to play either action or non-action video games and tested their reading abilities before and after playing. The study showed that after playing action games, kids read at a faster rate without a loss of accuracy because the game play increased their brain's ability to switch back and forth between visual and auditory stimuli — which is typically a struggle for kids with dyslexia.

7. An Engaging Teaching Tool

If your child is having trouble wrapping their mind around a certain subject or skill, video games may provide an engaging way for them to learn new things.

"A growing number of experts are more accepting of the notion that video games can be powerful ways to educate and improve certain skills in kids and young adults," Dr. Hafeez tells Romper. But, she reminds parents that there are limits. "Video games, in moderated windows of time, can exercise information retention, problem-solving, improve coordination, and develop decision-making skills, but moderation is key."

Studies referenced:

Boot, W. R., Blakely, D. P., & Simons, D. J. (2011) Do action video games improve perception and cognition? Frontiers in Psychology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3171788/

Palaus, M., Marron, E., Viejo-Sobera, R., Redolar-Ripoll, D. (2017) Neural Basis of Video Gaming: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00248/full

Green, C. S., Sugarman, M. A., Medford, K., Klobusicky, E., & Daphne Bavelier. (2012) The effect of action video game experience on task-switching. Computers in Human Behavior, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3292256/

Franceschini S, Gori S, Ruffino M, Viola S, Molteni M, and Facoetti A. (2013) Action Video Games Make Dyslexic Children Read Better. Current Biology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23453956

Experts:

Maureen Healy, PhD, child psychologist, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, and parenting coach at Growinghappykids.com

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD., a neuropsychologist in New York City, faculty member at Columbia University