Electronic games, whether they are handheld or part of a larger gaming system, are widespread in the lives of 21st-century children. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 83 percent of children under 6 years old participate in some form of screen media daily; the screen can be a television, computer or video game. Exposing children to electronic games is ultimately a personal choice of the parents. Video and electronic games for children have both pros and cons. Choosing games that are age-appropriate and limiting screen time to an hour or two each day is a recommendation put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Toy companies market electronic games for babies and toddlers as well as tweens and teens, touting that their system will aid the development of motor skills. Games that require a joystick or stylus can be beneficial to emerging fine motor skills; hand-to-eye coordination and other visual motor skills may be challenged when a young child is exposed to electronic video games. The NYU Child Study Center states that when used in moderation, games of this kind can improve motor skills, but usage should be monitored closely.
Critical Thinking Skills
Exposing children to electronic games can be educational in the right setting. Not all video games carry educational benefits and are purely for entertainment. Video games that are centered around reading, math and other academic subjects may help children learn analytical and critical thinking skills that are required for problem-solving. Even playing noneducational electronic games on occasion may aid this process; for example, choosing which road to take in a car race can teach a child about the consequences of his actions if he ends up falling into a ditch.
On the other side of the coin, the NYU Child Study Center reminds parents and caretakers that children must focus on their school work as well as playing games. Children who spend hours each day playing video games may not be spending enough time on homework and other academic-related activities.
Children suffer from stress just like adults, according to the NYU Child Study Center. Playing electronic and video games can help kids blow off some steam from their long day at school, and may help them feel refreshed for the new day to come. When electronic games are used as "light entertainment," in this way, the stress relief they bring can be a benefit to the entire family.
Aggression and Violence
Exposure to violence, aggression and other behaviors that are seen as negative in most parenting circles is a downside of allowing children to play electronic games. Video games that focus on killing opponents to earn points and rewards may lead to a difficult differentiation between reality and fantasy, and may produce a desensitized reaction to violence, according to the NYU Child Study Center. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation's fall 2003 report about the role of electronic media in the lives of children under the age of 6, reports that children of both genders are likely to emulate both positive and negative behaviors they see on television and in other forms of electronic media, including video games. According to the report, boys are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors than girls.
Excessive exposure to electronic games can contribute to limited physical activity. These sedentary activities may become a priority over going outside to play in some families; if kids routinely choose to play electronic games and miss out on more traditional forms of exercise, they could be at risk for childhood obesity.