“Can I play Wii?” It is a question many parents grapple with after school, on weekends and all summer long. Most parents, who grew up with Pong and Apples in the classroom, answer with, “Go outside and play.”

These answers do nothing but elicit eye rolls from offspring and any friends they may have dragged over to convince the parent to say yes. But for parents who grew up playing outside and watching only four local channels, the amount of video game time children are begging for can be stressful, especially since most parents are not sure, with the advent of exergames and educational games, if they always need to say no.

The Harmful Effects of Violent Video Games

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one to two hours of quality programming a day for any child over the age of two. But the actual amount adds up to six hours a day spent in front of the TV, computer (not including school work) and video games.

Much of what parents hear is based on research conducted on all types of electronic media. And those reports say that the amount of screen time children use daily is directly correlated to obesity, poor health and poor performance at school.

There have been countless studies on the effects of violent video games and children. In one study, reported by Ann Harding of Health.com, and conducted by Dr. Craig A. Anderson, a Ph.D of Iowa State University, boys from the US and Japan, between the ages of nine and eighteen, were observed for three months. After determining the amount of time each boy played and his favorite games, observation reports were filled out by the boys and their parents. In every group observed, the boys who played more violent games became more aggressive over time than those that played less.

Benefits of Exergames and Educational Games

In order to counteract the reports linking video games with obesity, the gaming industry introduced exergames. Exergames are any video games that promote exercise. This genre of gaming changes the look of video games from sedentary to active. A study reported in Obesity, author Ann E. Maloney et al. reported that Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) decreased the amount of sedentary video game time and increased the previous amount of physical activity. The study suggests that the use of DDR was so successful because it offers exercise without changing the lifestyle of the child drastically.

Educational games are available for people of all ages. There are games that can teach a foreign language to a toddler, games that teach third graders their multiplication facts, and games for the adult whose brain needs a little stimulation. While there has been little in the way of research for the positive effects of games, the very nature of the game makes it fun. All educational games follow a format and include encouragement, increasingly difficult levels, and rewards when a task has been completed.

All types of games have been linked to increased eye-hand coordination, inductive reasoning, problem-solving, and spatial visualization. In a Reuters article, author Andrew Stern reports that children who played video games became better surgeons.

Using ESRB Ratings to Find Suitable Games

Unfortunately for parents, a majority of games have some violence and seem to be favorites of school aged boys. A violent game is any game where the player intentionally wants to harm another. The ESRB, a non profit organization that rates games, is an excellent source of information for parents. The ESRB website provides ratings summaries and tools to assist parents in finding appropriate games for all ages.

How Much Time Should be Spent on Video Games?

Like everything in life, video games need to taken in moderation. What that may be depends on individual families. Parents who have concerns that video games are getting in the way of school performance need to reassess the rules. Some children may be able to play for an hour after school and still manage to settle down to finish homework and go to sports practice. Other parents may find that after a half hour their children become aggressive and argumentative.

It is important for parents to resolve any issues before allowing a child to play. The following are some questions parents can ask themselves before determining the rules.

  • “Is my child getting at least 60 minutes of exercise a day?”
  • “Does my child have plenty of time to finish his homework?”
  • “Is my child able to fall asleep at bedtime?”
  • “What type of game is my child playing?”
  • “Does my child become aggressive or argumentative after playing?”
  • “Can my child focus on his homework?”

Putting Limits on Video Game Play

The bottom line is that parents need to do what makes them comfortable. In addition to behavioral studies, there has also been a study of the brain. Conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine, it shows there is a change in brain activity after children engaged in violent video games. Parents need to take this knowledge and either omit this genre of video game or watch their children for changes in behavior.

There is also concern related to obesity and poor school performance. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that each child over the age of two get at least one hour of exercise a day. Educational principles suggest that each child turn off all electronic media while doing homework.

While the gaming industry is working hard to address these concerns, it is also noted that the most popular games are the sedentary type. In the study reported in Obesity it was noted that DDR play significantly dropped after three months. So, while exergames and educational games appear to be positive choices, they are often not the gamer’s first pick. Parents need to take the time, ask themselves important questions and review the results of video game play in their households. Doing so will create not only a more successful child, but provide parents with the peace of mind that they have made the right decision.