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Grade-Schoolers Their Lives Expand : Screen Time How much is too much? (part 1) - Benefits of gaming

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Q: What can I do to manage video gaming safely with my two sons?
A: Help your boys to choose age-appropriate games and websites by taking into account each individual child’s temperament and developmental stage in your decision-making. An energetic, fiery child may well get over-excited and a little aggressive after playing a war game, so you will need to be cautious about what you allow him to play and for how long.

Give yourself the opportunity to be involved in choices about games and websites by making sure that both boys ask permission from you to play, to go online, and to download material. Set time limits and stick to them. Play games together, learn together, and keep an eye on solitary gaming activity. It is not necessarily bad: You wouldn’t stop a child from reading alone for hours on end if he was into a really good book and you had no concerns about his social development. But make sure that the games console is kept in a communal area so that you can keep an eye on what each boy is playing and how it might be affecting him.

Nearly all games now have age classifications stated on the packaging, so check these before you buy. There are helpful online information sites for parents about safe gaming, and the industry is building in safety measures such as parental control on gaming platforms. However, you do need some knowledge in order to use these effectively; you cannot rely on the industry to keep your children safe.

Q: What are your views on the influence TV has on children?
A: Some people are worried about television enforcing certain stereotypes and prejudices in society. However, there is no evidence to support the argument that the more TV children watch, the more likely they are to conform to gender stereotypes. The portrayal of more positive roles on television for certain groups such as disabled people and ethnic minorities may actually have a positive impact on children’s views. They also may have a more positive impact on adult’s views, and it may be via the adult that the child’s view is formed rather than directly through the influence of television. Children are more likely to be influenced by TV portrayals that are similar to the environment that they live in. The clear message is the crucial role parents play in mediating the effects television may have on their children. Parents can limit the time children spend watching, they should monitor and control their choice of shows, and, most significantly, recognize that their own behavior and attitudes are more influential on their children at this age than television will ever be.
Q: How can I protect my child from stranger danger?
A: We hear about predatory adults who go onto children’s networking sites, posing as children, to access their targets. Those characteristics that might make a child vulnerable to this kind of approach in everyday life will also make him vulnerable online.

However, we must keep a sense of proportion—although the negative potential is evident, the reality of actual harm is very low. Children aged between eight to 10 are unlikely to be interested in such risky behavior, and can be managed with sensible advice and close monitoring. Ensure that they use public chat rooms that are well moderated and that they learn to look out for signs that someone is not who they say they are. Establish as common practice the rule that no personal information is given out, including email addresses.

Q: My 10-year-old is really into online gaming in a kind of imaginary world. Will this do him any harm?
A: The new world of online gaming offers extraordinary opportunities for players to take on new personalities, referred to as avatars, in three-dimensional virtual worlds and to play interactively with known and unknown others via the internet. This means your son enters a fantasy universe with a self-created identity, builds homes, communities, and worlds, and enacts battles and adventures with friends and possibly strangers. At 10, he may not be able to fully differentiate between fact and fantasy, and he may also not be able to make sound judgments about the people he meets in his virtual world. He may also encounter material online that is inappropriate for his age.

On the other hand, he may benefit hugely from creating this new identity and being part of enacting colorful adventures. As his parent, you must judge from what you know about his character and his maturity and decide to set some limits upon his behavior. If he will comply with your safety requirements and share some of his world with you, so that you can stay involved and informed, you may feel good about letting him proceed. You might consider joining the game yourself—this way, you will probably be able to monitor his interactions more effectively.

Q: Is it true that watching TV might make my child violent?
A: There is a commonly held belief that television is bad for children. Television watching is blamed for, among many other social ills, childhood obesity, passive absorption of mindless programming, creating an endless desire for material goods, perpetuating social stereotyping, and encouraging violent behavior.

Since the explosion of television ownership and viewing in the 1950s, much research has been done on the feared influence TV has had on growing brains and bodies. To date this research remains complex and inconclusive. It is often misunderstood, overly simplified, and misrepresented to support the prevailing zeitgeist. What we can safely conclude is that television can have an effect on the social behavior of children, but this will depend very much on the particular child and factors such as his age, gender, social background, and on the preexisting level of behavior being affected (i.e academic achievement or aggressive behavior).

Some research studies suggest that watching violent programs in already-aggressive boys is associated with increases in aggressive behavior. However, there may be other factors influencing aggressive boys that will have more of an influence on their behavior, such as the environment in which they live or their interactions with others. Interestingly, watching informative programs at age five was related to improved school grades later on for boys, while watching violent programs at age five was related to poor school grades later on for girls only.

As long as you limit the amount of time your child spends watching TV—not more than two hours of screen time a day is recommended—and ensure that you stick to age-appropriate programs, television probably will not have any bad effects on your child.

Q: My two children fight constantly over the computer. Should I ban it completely?
A: Learning to use and share a computer is an important lesson for children. You can use time on the computer as a reward to be earned for behaving according to the rules you have set for its proper use. Time on the computer can then also become a sanction to be removed for rule-breaking. Banning things completely denies you this very powerful incentive and denies your children the opportunity to gain all the benefits that computers can offer.
Q: What can I do to ensure internet safety?
A: As with any other new activity that your children engage in, the internet requires the same balance of parental response: interest, rules, monitoring, and safety measures. You need to know what you are dealing with, put safety measures in place as much as possible, keep an eye on your children’s internet activity, and teach them responsible e-safety measures as well.

Most crucially for parents of internet-savvy children is the need to be informed and skilled to use the technology with confidence. If you have to rely on your child for technical assistance, you are at a disadvantage as the responsible adult, and this can undermine your own and your child’s sense of security. Set some clear and simple rules about how much time each child is allowed to spend on the computer, when in the day that should be (after homework is completed might be a good idea), and spell out the behavior you expect to see from them toward each other, in relation to you, and toward the computer. You might put up a list of do’s and don’ts that include some details about handovers such as: When your time is up, you have five minutes to finish what you’re doing and hand over the controls; Wait until your brother/sister has finished his/her turn, including the extra five minutes, to take the controls that are given to you; Treat each other and the computer with respect (no food or drinks nearby); Speak quietly and calmly.

Ensuring e-safety

  • Install software that blocks access to inappropriate material.

  • Monitor internet use and websites visited.

  • Set rules about behavior online: no personal information; no-go websites; no illegal downloading; limits to time spent online; behave as you would offline.

  • Explain why you are concerned, and that it is your responsibility to keep your children safe; use an offline analogy, like learning to ride a bike.

  • Encourage discussion about internet content, contact, and conduct.

  • Support your children in making judgments about the reliability of online content.

  • Encourage your child to take some responsibility for his own e-safety.

  • Share time together on the internet.

Video gaming Risky or beneficial?

Think nine-year-old boys, and a video game isn’t far behind! As with internet use, there may be risks (for example, many games feature adult content) but there may also be advantages. Perhaps more than any other screen-related activity, gaming technology is developing so rapidly that parents and researchers cannot keep up. This means that, in many cases, we just do not know what their effects on children might be.

Benefits of gaming

There is evidence of improvements in decision-making and attention in six-year-olds who have had some training on a computer screen. However, caution must be taken when drawing comfort from this research—although changes may be demonstrated immediately following the training, we do not know if this continues in the long term, nor whether it transfers from the gaming situation to real life.

Educationally, using video games to teach your child will certainly increase his motivation, but the overall success will depend on your child, his teacher, and the subject being taught. For children with special educational needs, developments have been made in using video games to teach skills. For example, a game involving Thomas the Tank Engine has been used to teach emotional recognition skills to children on the autistic spectrum. Using video gaming following painful procedures in hospital has been shown to reduce the amount of pain-relieving medication needed.

Playing together with friends and family on video games, from the most basic puzzles and races to the interactive and physically active sporting and musical games, is highly social and great fun. Children are also learning about turn taking, negotiating, winning, and losing.

Q: What do we know about the risks?
A: One of the main areas of concern is the amount of time children spend gaming. Although it may not be appropriate to say that a child is truly addicted, gaming can certainly be a problem requiring significant change if he is playing every day for long stretches of time, instead of doing homework, physical activity, socializing, and sleeping, and if his mood is directly affected by whether he is gaming or not. Hours playing solitary games from a young age may have a detrimental impact on language and social-skills development and, indeed, on learning to control behavior and emotions. Parents should ensure that their child is playing a suitable game for his age by checking the age ratings on the box.

It is up to parents to decide how much time your children spend playing video games. You could have a rule that gaming is only allowed after meals, chores, completion of homework, and enough physical activity.

Moderation

Playing video games should be fine as long as you impose a time limit.

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