The warnings about letting your children become video and digital gamers can be overwhelming. The list of risks is a litany of parental fears – addiction, social withdrawal and isolation; stunting in the development of empathy and numbness in the face of violence; disinterest in healthy enjoyments such as playing with a variety of toys, reading books and physical activities. In response to the pervasive fearmongering, some parents ban gaming outright, others uneasily make it possible but keep fretting about whether they’ve done the right thing.
Gaming has been around long enough for there to be a substantial body of research that points to an array of benefits and debunks many of the common myths about the negative impacts on children and youth. Rachelle Best, CEO and Founder of FYI play it safe, an AI-powered monitoring app used by families across the world to keep kids safer online, says, “As with anything in life, gaming is all about balance and how you manage this possible form of skills-building entertainment. Age-appropriate gaming for children can also be a way of making social connections rather than fostering isolation. Parents setting and enforcing sensible ground rules for safe, family-centred gaming can ensure that their child can get the best out of it.”
Some of the important benefits of gaming include:
Brainpower – There are many studies that show that gamers may experience an array of cognitive boosts when it comes to developing visual-spatial skills, logical thinking skills, problem-solving capacities and eye-hand co-ordination. US Researcher and author of Free to Learn, Dr Peter Gray unpacks a range of this research on cognitive impacts in three articles published by Psychology Today, which you can find linked here.
Improved basic mental processes – Gamers shine when it comes to attention, memory, perception and decision-making thanks to video games that require them to make rapid decisions, move fast, keep track of multiple of things and retain a lot of information at once.
Social inclusivity – The gaming world is undeniably social. It is estimated that there are more than 3.2 billion gamers in the world. Multi-player games are amongst the most popular. For some kids, gaming opens up to them a community where they can feel like they really belong. It may give them an opener to make in-person friends with other gamers at their school or in their neighbourhood, as well as give them the opportunity to enjoy supportive online connections. Instead of being a solitary activity for your child, you can consider gaming together as family. This helps parents keep track of the games your child plays, who they interact with online and the time they spend gaming.
The feel-good factor – Gaming is fun; it can enable the release of endorphins and promote physical and mental relaxation. The key here is gaming in moderation and that there’s a balance with other off-screen activities.
Digital literacy – Our kids are growing up in a world with a significant and ever-expanding digital realm. They will make their living one day in an even more digital-driven world. Gaming technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality are already being incorporated in many other aspects of life and commerce. Gaming elements are also increasingly being used in both school and tertiary educational curricula. Children who game are getting a particular and valuable experience as digital citizens.
All of these benefits of gaming are not to say that there are not real risks. One of most common parental fears is that gaming can certainly open the virtual doors to your child being exposed to cyberbullying and online predators. If your child does game then you do need to ensure that you are aware of who your child is engaging with, and that they understand the difference between the actual person and the avatar representing them. Parents also need to set the limits and ensure their child is gaming in moderation. Warning signs are social withdrawal, secretive behaviour and mood swings when they have to stop gaming and transition to other activities.
Rachelle says, “The question for parents of a child who wants to start gaming isn’t should I or shouldn’t I let my kid play video games? But rather, how can I enable safe and responsible gaming so that they can experience the benefits? It’s important that the games you provide or allow are age-appropriate; that the screen time limits are adhered to, that gaming doesn’t lead to sleep deprivation or skipped meals, and that you have safety measures in place if your child is playing multi-player games and interacting in chatrooms.”
As a mother of a teen, and the provider of an advanced tool in the online safety ecosystem, Rachelle is acutely aware of risks of children encountering cyberbullying, inappropriate content and online predators. “These, of course, are dangers that any child or teen with a connected device might face, not just those who are gaming,” she says. “It’s important for parents to take a healthy interest in their children’s gaming activities and keep up to date by having ongoing, open conversations with them about what they enjoy, how they are doing and who they are interacting with. Your child needs to know about the risks of participating in in-game chats or interacting on gaming related messaging platforms, and together you need to agree on the best ways to keep them safe while gaming.”
Drawing on AI and ML, Rachelle and her team developed the FYI play it safe app which monitors all the content of children’s online activity across mobile devices in a non-intrusive way. All apps and online interactions are monitored, including in-game chats, and FYI play it safe provides parents with alerts of potential signs of danger. New accounts and apps are included by default without the need for your child’s account credentials. Yet, the app is not spyware and it is not clandestine. Instead, it provides parents and children with the opportunity to mutually agree on the best way to stay safe in the digital world.
Rachelle concludes, “Whether it is gaming or interacting on social media and other platforms, our children need to learn how to engage safely in the digital world, just as they learn to ride a bike or cross the road safely in the real world. As parents we need to know the risks and then use the tools available in the online safety ecosystem to mitigate them. That way we can help our kids develop resilience and learn how to become adept, responsible digital citizens.”