Today I hope to summarize some of the good and bad effects of video games according to the latest in research.
Yes, video games can be highly rewarding, stimulating and motivating activities. We know that video games change our brains in the same way that learning to read or ride a bicycle does. Similar to exercise, gaming releases the mood regulating chemicals dopamine and glutamate in the brain. A concern is that over time this release will require an increased amount of gaming in order for the child to receive the same rewarding effects. It is for these reasons that the American Medical Association has speculated that 15% of teens and adults may be addicted to video gaming.
In a recent study of game usage of 141 boys between the ages 8 – 18, (56 boys with autism, 44 with ADHD, 41 typically developing) researchers found that boys with autism played video games about twice as long as their typical peers (2.1 vs 1.2 hours/day). In addition, the study found that problems with inattention were strongly associated with problematic game use in children with ASD and ADHD.
An additional study of 160 boys with ASD between the ages of 8 – 18 found that access to a video game system was associated with greater oppositional behavior in homes where parents reported no rules on the child’s video game use.
I was also very concerned to read that there is considerable evidence that violent video games cause increases in aggression when the gamer has a predisposition to volatile behavior while others are seemingly unaffected.
There certainly are positive effects of video games. These include:
- Problem Solving and Logic
- Executive Functioning Skills (planning, doing and evaluating)
- Developing reading and math skills
- Simulation, real world skills
- Increase in self confidence and self-esteem as he / she masters games.
Some suggestions to help your child play responsibly can include:
- Give your child a variety of entertaining things to do (books, sports, social events)
- Limit the amount of time your child plays video games
- Monitor how the video games affect your child
How to choose the right video game for your child:
- Check the Ratings of the game before allowing your child to play it
- Recognize your child’s maturity level and then determine which game is suitable for him/her
- Choose a game that requires strategy and decision making skills
- Look for games involving multiple players to encourage group play / social skills
When played responsibly video games can support children with ASD. We simply need to monitor their use and maximize the benefits as we minimize the potential risks.