Photo: Marta Wave

Ever since video games first came out, parents have been given dire warnings about the effects of letting kids play them. There have been claims that they negatively impact child development and can increase violent behavior.

But is this really true? It depends on the game. While it’s true that your 5-year-old probably shouldn’t be playing Call of Duty, there are lots of kid-appropriate options that can actually be beneficial. Many modern video games designed for kids have a great deal of educational potential and can help children gain new skills.

Now that they’ve been around for a while, we know a lot more about why video games are so attractive to kids and about the potential they have for positive learning, development, and creativity. Here’s why some video games can be a great addition to any child’s learning plan.

The Developmental Benefits of Gaming

There are some great developmental benefits that go along with educational video games. Children can learn how to problem-solve in order to advance within some games while others allow them to express and build their creativity. Many of these games also offer strong and relatable characters who can help children develop important social skills.

The key to unlocking these developmental benefits is to choose your child’s games carefully and to stay involved in their experience. Don’t just choose games for their entertainment value, choose games that will teach kids educational content or help them build their skills and confidence.

Don’t just leave them alone at the computer for hours. To really get the developmental benefits out of the games, ask questions about what they’re doing and praise their effort. Another good interactive option is to play exercise-based video games together to boost mood and brain function and to build the foundations for lifelong fitness as a family.

Video Game Therapy for Kids

While research indicates that letting children play violent video games probably isn’t a good idea, other studies show that there are lots of opportunities for interactive games in helping children not just to develop, but to support their mental health needs as well. Some psychologists are beginning to see the benefits of using video games as a therapy tool. “Gamification,” (using the rules of games for practical applications) they claim, has the potential to help promote well-being and address mental health problems in young people.

The researchers dive into four main benefits that modern video games can provide: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social. Using video games appropriately in therapy could be a great way to engage kids and cater to their specific needs.

While they acknowledge that there is still more research that needs to be done and more in terms of game design to create appropriate therapy tools, it shows promise. Many mental health professionals are very excited about the emerging use of gamification in counseling.

Video Game Therapy for Children with Learning Disabilities

It can be a challenge to engage with children who have learning disabilities or struggle with social and emotional skills. Some children have communication issues or struggle with basic learning concepts. For these children, sitting down and studying more isn’t always the right option.

Video games can be a great way to engage kids with learning disabilities. These activities are fun and exciting enough to encourage interactive learning and present information in a new way. Children who struggle to retain information might learn better through a game that’s designed for their disability, such as Fast ForWord, which is made specifically to help children with dyslexia learn language and reading skills.

VR Will Change the Way We Teach

During the pandemic, many students found out what it was like to learn virtually. Although we hope students will be able to continue in-person learning now that the pandemic is waning, we might continue to use virtual tools to enhance and change the way we teach children.

VR (virtual reality) is a tool that could really make a difference in students’ lives, especially when paired with video games that help children develop skills and cognitive abilities. Games with VR capabilities have come a long way in the last few years and could be merged with these interactive, educational games designed for kids to enhance interactivity and improve distance learning.

We’ve come a long way from the days when “experts” believed that video games would be society’s downfall. We know better now, and a more balanced view of video games is helping kids learn, grow, and thrive.

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