Q:Please settle the debate between my husband and me:
What is a good age to start introducing video games to kids in moderation?
Uh oh! Am I in dangerous marital territory? Am I being used as the mediator? Yikes!
I have previously answered questions about the use of different devices. You can see ALL of my past Palisadian-Post columns on my website (BetsyBrownBraun.com) under the dropdown What’s New?
Your question, however, is slightly different.
First, I warn you: There is no single, definitive answer to your question. End of that story.
Every person has a different idea not only about what is the right age for the use of any device (including television) but also what content is okay for viewing. On top of that, sometimes life just gets in the way.
When parents are desperate or at their wits’ end, they do things they previously swore never to do. When you must get in the shower and there is no babysitter to help, you hand your 13-month-old the iPad. When you simply cannot handle another second of screaming in the car, you thrust your phone into the 2-year-old’s hands. You know what I am talking about.
Parents’ conscious decisions (and not desperate ones) about when, how much and what with regard to technology also have everything to do with their own experiences, their memories, the role such things played or didn’t play in their lives, what their own parents did or didn’t do with them.
And some have very strong feelings one way or the other as a result. No two people have the same story.
As I have previously said, modern technology is here to stay, including video gaming. Though I know there are some, very few parents manage to keep their children totally tech free and video game free through their elementary school years. Clearly, you know that, as your question is not if, it is at what age.
Rather than commit to an age to begin video games per se, I would rather address the kind of learning that all children need during their growing years. Experts in the field have long emphasized the importance of hands-on, interactive, sensory-based activities for our youngest children.
In a very abbreviated and simplistic way, I share that children begin life primarily learning out of the right hemisphere of their brains, the sensory and emotional brain. Slowly and in time, the left hemisphere, the symbolic brain, the side through which children learn the more “academic” skills, kicks in.
And in time, both hemispheres do their jobs in harmony. When a child is young, we want to feed her right brain and not settle into purely flat input provided by tech screens. Their activities need to be interactive and hands-on. This fact is critically important for the child’s healthy growth and development.
Full disclosure here, I am so glad that I raised my children in a time when there were no video games on iPhones and iPads. My own children grew up playing outside, dirt skiing down our back hill, shooting hoops, riding bikes and skateboards, doing art projects, playing with water, building with Legos and blocks and anything that wasn’t glued down.
Sadly, when given the choice today, too many children will leap for video games over any of the above. Playdates and socialization these days happen around video game play. Without the games available, they claim they are bored or say they have nothing to do. Sad. Sad. Sad.
This is not to say that video games are bad. There are some that promote creative thinking and use of imagination. (“Minecraft,” “Little Big Planet,” “Lego World,” for example). There are games that teach how to create, how to play and even how to lose.
It is a given that once you introduce something immensely pleasing or desirable to a child, you cultivate a taste for it—the cow is out of the barn! As you well know, children will seek and crave that very thing—eating sugar or using your phone. The same holds true with video games.
It is true, therefore, that the longer you hold off with video games, the easier life will be in a certain sense. Video games often trump all other activity. They do have that addictive quality.
Just know, the earlier games are introduced, the earlier your battling will begin. Of course, your child will do everything he can to get what he wants, including begging, pleading, whining, crabbing, complaining … the works.
In addition to the age at which you let the cow out of the barn, what is critical are the boundaries you erect around the use of technology, including video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children ages 5 to 18 years old have consistent limits on the time they spend on any media (including game consoles, video games, smart phones and tablets).
I am not sure how that works for 18-years-olds, but they sure are right about children 1 through 15- or 16-years-old. The boundaries will create all kinds of backlash, complaining and whining. Be prepared to hold your ground. It is crucial.
As an aside, I have clients who have reported to me how their children’s behaviors changed (settled down, became less combative, were happier, etc.) after they cut out video games. They even said that the child reported feeling a difference.
Whether I have calmed or extended your debate remains to be seen. Do let me know what you decide.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through her website, betsybrownbraun.com.
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