Summer screen time: Why video games are good for kids

Video games and their impact on kids are regularly debated, but some recent latest reports show that video games offer a lot of benefits for kids.

Jae C. Hong/AP/FILE
Attendees play video games on the PlayStation 4 at the Sony booth during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles on June 13, 2013.

It being summertime here in the global North, there may be a little extra video game play going on in households with kids. So it may be helpful for parents to know about a mother lode of the latest wisdom on video games’ effects on kids’ learning, social development and futures. It’s MindShift’s “Guide to Games & Learning,” and here are a few nuggets 

Gaming fuels motivation

“We want our children to develop strong meta-cognitive skills [i.e., "the desire, the drive, and the skill, to look at themselves and evaluate the way they think about their place in the world"],” writes reporter Jordan Shapiro in “Social-Emotional Benefits of Video Games.”  

He points to Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, who studies motivation and social development.  

Mr. Shapiro writes“She makes a distinction between an entity theory of intelligence and an incremental theory of intelligence. When kids develop an entity theory of intelligence, they believe they have innate, fixed traits. They’re praised for being smart, or being good at math,” which reduces motivation to work toward a goal because one either “has it” or not. 

An incremental theory of intelligence, on the other hand, is based on acquiring skills that are gained over time, incrementally. These kids are “praised for their effort,” which motivates them to keep going. “They have a growth mindset.” 

Videogame play fosters that incremental sense of intelligence, Shapiro explains, “Because players are rewarded for one task at a time – for overcoming one obstacle after another – they learn to understand learning and accomplishment iteratively.” They keep at it till they get it – accomplish a task, complete a quest, or go to the next level.

Then there’s the social development part. “Seventy percent of gamers play their games with other people … are actually engaged with one another … play cooperatively. They play competitively. They share tips and tricks. They work together. They teach each other how to get better at the game,” Shapiro writes.

21st-century skills

In three sentences Arizona State University professor James Paul Gee explains why digital games belong in school. “Video games are complex systems composed of rules that interact. Gamers must think like a designer and form hypotheses about how the rules interact so they can accomplish goals and even bring about emergent results. Thinking like a designer in order to understand systems is a core 21st Century skill,” Dr. Gee told Shapiro in an interview for the MindShift Guide.

Games provide context

But if that doesn’t convince you, read why Gee says video games are better than textbooks: “A game manual is given meaning by the game world it is about, not by a dictionary. A physics textbook is a ‘game manual’ for the actions, experiences, and problem solving that physicists engage in … In school, we give people texts when they have not had enough experience in the worlds the texts are about, the experiences that give the texts meaning. It is as if we were to give kids game manuals without the games … Whether it is STEM or ELA [English Language Arts], if we do not deliver the game, but only the text, we do not get problem solvers and system thinkers, we get, at best, paper-and-pencil test passers.” 

It just makes sense that immersive games and virtual worlds provide context and social development – opportunities to collaborate, simulate and strategize; learn or quest with fellow players, helping each other figure stuff out as a team; accomplish a task or reach a goal, then start the learning process all over, seeking assessment or “tests” along the way because they tell you where you are on the learning journey. Sounds a little like life, doesn’t it?

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews, and you can find this original post with relevant related links here.

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