Modern children live in an extremely digitalized environment characterized by information availability and specific ways to spend free time. Today, most young people prefer to spend time in front of the computer, either doing their homework or socializing by using social networks. Another contemporary societal trend is the high popularity of video games that have become more complex, similar to reality, and demanding much time. The continually updated content and the ability to play with friends online attract children. In such a way, video games replace other activities such as running, walking, or socializing in the street. The given change of priorities triggers vigorous debates about the possible effects of games on children, their physical and mental development, and long-term consequences. For this reason, the given research is assigned to the issue of video games and how they influence children.
The influence of video games on children and youth has been an ambiguous topic for parents and researchers due to the complexity and under-investigated nature of the issue. Indeed, multiple researchers identify both positive and negative impacts of playing and watching video games on youths’ health, social and cognitive development, and physical wellness (Baboo 11-12; Halbrook 1096-1097; Paturel). The negative effects of video games on children might include the development of anxiety, depression, changes in brain functioning, problems with weight, socialization, and trigger the evolution of chronic diseases. However, they can also positively influence children’s increasing ability to imagine objects, attention, creativity, and reduce aggression levels. Thus, it is imperative to integrate the multitude of factors and conditions that predetermine either negative or positive outcomes of playing video games for children.
Video game development resulted in the emergence of complex games that create attractive images and exciting tasks to engage players and hold their attention. Statistics show that 66% of children aged 8 to 12 years play video games about 2 hours per day, while teens aged 13 to 17 play about 2.5 hours per day (Halbrook 1097). Another study unveiled a similar finding indicating that youths are disproportionately exposed to video content. Indeed, researchers found that children “spend an average of twenty-five hours in a week and watching the television and nine-hour a week by playing video games” (Baboo 11). It means, for children, video games become the primary type of activity practiced every day, which ultimately constitutes a significant part of their lives. Thus, the excessive duration of exposure to the content of video games implies the inevitability of their effect on the developing individual.
Another problem linked to video games is their ability to precondition addiction. They affect the brain similarly to drugs as they stimulate the pleasure center and trigger dopamine release, responsible for the emergence of specific behaviors (Paturel). An immediate reward and fast response that are commonly characteristic of video game playing generate a sense of easily accessible pleasure, which induces addiction (Razjouyan et al. 669). In such a way, playing video games, children feel the need to spend more time involved in this activity. Today, games are spreading globally, and there is hardly an area, excluding the poorest ones with no Internet or computers, where children are deprived of a chance to play (Paturel). Importantly, the development of addiction to video games might have far-reaching mental health outcomes. In particular, Razjouyan et al. found that “addiction to video games was directly related to stress and depression” (670). Thus, the combination of addiction and accessibility contributes to the spread of video games and the growing interest in how they impact physical and mental health.
Another significant problem linked to video games is their influence on the mental development of a child. Childhood is the period fundamental for a child’s mental development, and numerous factors might positively or negatively affect their brain and behaviors (Lobel 885). Specifically, their attention span, concentration, emotional regulation, and other pivotal aspects of psychological functioning are being formed under the influence of external factors (Razjouyan et al. 669-670). In such a way, since video games have become the central way to spend free time, replacing previous activities, this topic attracts researchers’ attention as it has a direct impact on the psyche and health of an individual. However, there is no consensus on whether video games have only negative or positive effects.
One of the most known fears is that video games can affect brain functioning. Some researchers assume that excessive gaming in childhood can physically rewire the brain and introduce irreversible changes into its work (Paturel). The recent Chinese research presupposing two control groups showed that gamers, “individuals spending about 10 hours a day online,” have less gray matter than people who spend less than two hours online (Paturel). In such a way, gaming can be dangerous as it affects various brain areas, depending on the type of game and reaction it cultivates.
There is also a belief that games might precondition the development of depression and anxiety in children. The given states are mainly associated with failures in online games, the inability to get some achievement, or bullying, one of the standard practices on the Internet. The research shows that excessive gaming might precondition dopamine exhaustion, emotional suppression, and the lack of motivation to achieve various real-life goals (Paturel). Moreover, people with depression might suffer from the deterioration of their states caused by addictive playing (“Video Games and Children: Playing with Violence”). Analyzing the impact of video games on anxiety, researchers also offer various assumptions. First of all, gaming can be a normal and healthy way to relieve stress and decrease anxiety levels by engaging in online activities (Pellissier). However, for children with gaming disorder, using gaming as an anxiety coping mechanism can be dangerous and contribute to the accumulation of adverse effects and increased risks (Pellissier). In such a way, video games have diverse effects on depression and anxiety, including positive and negative ones.
The lack of socialization and contact with peers in real life is one of the most prevalent fears among parents. Today, most games demand time; moreover, they are focused on cooperation online by using the Internet, which means that children do not have to leave their houses to communicate with other people. It preconditions the increased time they spend at home. Recent research states that there is a direct correlation between the time spent online and social skills; the higher the gaming addiction, the less the social skills (Lobel 885). Children might demonstrate the inability to communicate in real life because of the absence of the demanded experience.
Excessive gaming can also result in inadequate weight management. Gamers usually have snacks consisting of unhealthy food such as sweets, chips, or soda (Halbrook 1100). The given dietary patterns create the basis for the emergence of several problems. First, they might acquire extra weight and suffer from obesity. Simultaneously, spending much time in front of the computer with decreased physical activity and wrong posture might develop scoliosis and other problems with the locomotor system (Lobel 885). Moreover, there is an increased risk of acquiring chronic diseases such as gastritis. From this perspective, video games can be dangerous for children.
Children spend much time at home and playing video games and devote less attention to real life and the world surrounding them. Therefore, Louv states that the threatening tendency towards the decreased exposure of children to nature can be observed in Western countries today (Louv 23). The given nature deficit disorder harms children and society for health development; they need to interact with the environment and acquire all benefits from this cooperation (Louv 45). The inability to remain in contact with the world affects all child bodies’ systems and prevents them from healthy evolution. For this reason, video games should be viewed as the factor limiting children’s access to nature and triggering the growth of the nature-deficit disorder.
Though it is critical to mention the fact that there are also positive effects linked to video games. For instance, studies show that players improve their visual capabilities by playing action games, including tracking multiple objects, reacting, storing, and manipulating them in specific memory centers in the brain (Paturel). Due to the need to consider several factors concurrently, players have to perform multiple tasks together and make immediate decisions, which affects their brains and makes them more flexible (Paturel). These positive effects differentiate gamers from other children and help them cope with diverse tasks while visiting their educational establishments.
Playing action games is also directly correlated with reaction speed. Investigations show that gamers who spend much time in this activity have a lower speed of reaction (Paturel). Understandably, their gaming sessions can be viewed as training, resulting in forming bonds in the brain and skills development (Pellissier). Because multiple repetitions of the same actions are an effective form of learning, gamers acquire new capabilities linked to similar situations (Paturel). Indeed, due to the repetitive practice of multiple cognitive skills during video game playing sessions, children can improve their brain functioning. A study by Baboo provides compelling evidence on this point (13-14). The researcher states that active players develop their problem-solving skills through deliberate involvement of analytical, logical, and creative thinking, which is why such activity might have positive implications for a child (Baboo 13-14). In such a manner, exposure to video games and actively playing, in particular, have a beneficial impact on children’s reactions and thinking.
There are also different opinions on how video games affect the imagination. Thus, most studies conclude that modern role-playing games (RPG) contribute to developing creative and imaginary qualities of the child’s brain (Halbrook 1100). They offer a person a unique world, and a player should use his/her imagination to dive into it and associate his/her hero with himself/herself. Additionally, quests and strategies might precondition the rise of strategic thinking and the ability to resolve complicated puzzles or questions (Halbrook 1100). For this reason, video games can be viewed as a factor stimulating the development of this aspect of the brain’s functioning.
Within the context of video games’ impact on children, the consideration of the content and type of games is crucial. Indeed, since video games differ in style and themes, ranging from peaceful to violent, their effects might have different outcomes for players. For example, researchers investigating pro-social behavior development induced by video games note that individuals playing pro-social games developed positive behaviors. According to Baboo, “compared to participants who had played either the neutral or the violent video games, participants who had played the pro-social video game show significantly lower levels of … aggressive behavior” (13). Overall, when playing games with no violent content and arranged in a peaceful and relaxing manner, children are likely to have a positive mood, consistent helping intentions, and a higher level of pro-social tendency. Therefore, the quality of influence of video games on youth is significantly determined not only by the duration of exposure but also by the content of the games.
In such a way, there is no cohesive opinion about whether video games should be a prospect as a positive or negative factor impacting the mental development of a child. This complexity comes from the fact that there are both positive and negative effects associated with gaming. However, all sources emphasize the dangerous nature of excessive gaming and addiction. It means that parents are advised to control their children playing patterns to avoid spending too much time in the virtual world and guarantee that they interact with the world and their peers in real life.
In conclusion, video games have both positive and negative effects on children. They might precondition the development of chronic diseases and extra weight, high anxiety, depression levels, and brain functioning changes. The highly addictive nature increases the risks of spending too much time on games. However, there are also positive effects, such as better reaction, motor skills, visuospatial cognition, and creativity, which are trained during gaming sessions. Further investigation of the problem is required to outline more effects and conclude whether children’s brains suffer critical damage from games or whether they can be a tool to stimulate their development and optimal functioning.
Baboo, Smitha. “Differential Effects on Playing and Watching Videogames on the Problem Solving and Pro-Social Behaviour of Middle School Students.” International Journal of Education and Psychological Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 2017, pp. 11-14.
Halbrook, Yemaya J., et al. “When and How Video Games Can Be Good: A Review of the Positive Effects of Video Games on Well-Being.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 14, no. 6, Nov. 2019, pp. 1096–1104, Web.
Lobel, Adam, et al. “Video Gaming and Children’s Psychosocial Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 46, no. 4, 2017, pp. 884-897. Web.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books, 2008.
Paturel, Amy. “Game Theory: The Effects of Video Games on the Brain.” Brain & Life, 2014, Web.
Pellissier, Hank. “Your child’s Brain on Technology: Video Games.” Great Schools, 2014, Web.
Razjouyan, Katayoon, et al. “An Investigation into the Frequency of Addiction to Video Games in Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, vol. 9, no. 2, 2020, 669-672.
“Video Games and Children: Playing with Violence.” American Academy of Child & Adolescents Psychiatry, 2015, Web.