Video games are not necessarily bad for kids: It’s all about balance

WE MAKE MANY ASSUMPTIONS about video games, which can influence the way we view our children’s involvement with them. Some parents ban games altogether as “evil”. Others let their kids have a free run because they think of games as “harmless”. A few facts can be helpful:

First, there is no escaping video games. These days they come in various formats and platforms. Unless you intend for your kids never to have a mobile phone, computer or Internet access, you can bet that they will have ample opportunities to play video games.

Second, video games are not necessarily bad. Like many sports, they are proven to quicken reflexes and improve coordination. (And like many sports, overdoing it can cause harm to the body; with video games, it is a matter of eye-strain and possibly repetitive stress injury.) Many games also have a strategic element, which trains the mind to think tactically, just like chess does. Some players also dream of growing up to become champion gamers or makers of hit video games – aspirations as valid as aiming to be the next Lewis Hamilton or Steve Jobs.

Third, video games can be addictive – so can wine, television, food. Almost anything indulged in excess can be the root of addiction.

What you can and should focus on then is the type of games your kids play, how much time (and money) they spend on them, where they are playing them and with whom. This is the same common sense approach you would take if your child’s passion were, say, football or reading.

One easy thing to do is to vet games for sexual or violent content and bad language. Approach this the same way you do movies, television and comics. If the game came on a disc, the packaging will usually include a rating. Or you can find information on the Internet – useful websites include http://www. But the best thing is to observe your child playing the game at least a few times so you can see for yourself if there is undesirable content. It is important to keep lines of communication with your kids open so that you can discuss any concerns you may have.

Monitor how much time your children spend playing video games. Remember, even too much book reading can be bad! It’s all about balance. And it’s up to the parent to set and enforce some rules. Addiction is “being enslaved to something that is habit-forming, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma”. You can prevent it.

Finally, be aware that online video games often allow players to interact with each other. Just as you do not want your children keeping bad company in person, you should instil in them the smarts to take care online, especially since online identities are easily faked. Set some ground rules to make sure that your children do not reveal personal information or meet online friends in person. In fact, these are basic rules for any online interaction, whether or not games are involved.

At the end of the day, it’s important that you know what your kids are up to, and that you wield more influence over them than a video game. It will involve you spending time with them, communicating with, rather than talking at them, and setting boundaries.

With some care, your kids will enjoy their video games and go on to lead productive lives. I am 38 and still spend a couple of hours a day playing video games online, mostly when I am mulling over work-related issues. Yet I find enough time to run a business, do the housework and cook dinner. Oh, and did I mention that my husband works for a video games company?

Ong May Anne attends Wesley Methodist Church.