Helping to Create Healthier Video Game Habits for Your Child During COVID-19

Video games have been a popular form of entertainment for decades, particularly with kids and teens. But in the last few years, more advanced mobile devices has led to video games being more accessible than ever — no longer confined to a living room console or computer desktop. In fact, the Entertainment Software Association’s recent demographic survey notes that 60 percent of Americans play video games daily.

With the increased accessibility and uptick in gaming, and with more time being spent at home due to COVID-19, some parents and educators may have concerns about how often kids are playing video games, especially when it interferes with remote schoolwork and family time. So, what is a balanced approach when it comes to video game usage? And how can you and your family discuss appropriate ground rules? 

child gaming on computer

“The impact of video games can be positive or negative depending on the content and length of exposure,” said Dr. Erica Francis-Scott, a pediatrician and national accounts medical director for Optum. “Informational games can be a useful tool in supporting the learning of new concepts and mastering specific skills. On the other hand, a potential issue is the duration of play, especially if there is interference with other activities that the child or adolescent would otherwise be involved in.”

When considering length of exposure, it’s important to understand the child and adolescent brain is still maturing. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it takes until a person’s mid- to late-20s to complete its full development process. 

A child with a developing brain may often experience satisfaction and pleasure through what’s called “brain reward pathways.” These rewards can come from participating in everyday activities like school and hobbies, eating good food and spending time outside. 

However, Dr. Danesh Alam, a behavioral medical director at Optum, notes that “video games can have an impact on the reward systems of the developing brain. We need more research to understand the long-term effects on children.”

Video games can be a fun, immersive and shared activity with friends and family. They can also help with memory and cognitive abilities, depending on the type of game. But with video gaming an ever-present option during the day, it’s important to figure out time limits that work for your family, preferably with your child’s input. There is no set agreed-upon time for appropriate video game playing by child psychologists. It depends on many factors, including the child’s age. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently come out with revised guidelines for screen time

  • For children from the ages of 2 to 5, they recommend a maximum of one hour a day.
  • For children 6 and older, the AAP recommends setting consistent limits on screen time and ensuring kids are disconnected from any kind of media at least an hour before bed.
  • Encouraging your child to take frequent breaks can also be helpful. Have them do stretches or take a walk around the block in between game sessions.
  • The guidelines also emphasize that, while every family is different, having plenty of non-screen time is extremely important. This means making sure there is enough time for homework, family time and chores first, and then allowing for screen time, like video games. 

“Parents should do all in their power to encourage their child to engage in activities such as book reading, family time, physical activity and brain exercises, such as completing puzzles or playing board games,” said Dr. Aixa Silvera-Schwartz, a national medical director and pediatrician with Optum.

Spending a lot of time playing video games probably doesn’t mean your child has a gaming disorder that needs clinical attention. But, as with other forms of screen time, if it keeps your child from doing other things that he or she enjoys, or interferes with school work, it might be a sign of a problem. 

If you’re worried about the time your child spends with video games, talk to them about it. Ask questions. Learn more about the games that he or she enjoys — perhaps even play the game with them. If you still have concerns, talk to your family physician. 

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