Growing up, I played my fair share of video games, which included such offerings as PacMan, Centipede, and Donkey Kong. While games like Defender and Asteroids involved the destruction of aliens and assorted extraterrestrial beings, none of them was as realistically violent and graphic as the ones that are popular today.

Playing games also entailed a trip to the arcade where I would spend my hard-earned allowance with friends. It was our version of a Friday night on the town, and once the quarters ran out, it was all downhill from there.

Video Games in the Home

When my friend got one of the first Atari sets, it revolutionized how we played video games. Sure, the graphics were awful, but we could play them on his TV, and when your character met its demise, all you had to do was push the reset button and you were granted new life, free of charge.

Needless to say, we whiled away many hours in his bedroom, but somehow, there were limits to how much time we could spend looking at square pegs moving on TV screen, even if it cost us nothing.

Modern Video Games

Today, video games have moved into an entirely new realm. Not only are they more visually stimulating and realistic, but they involve a level of engagement that makes the games of my youth seem pathetic, if not a little embarrassing. Players can enter fantastical realms or be a character that fulfills their wildest dreams. People can even play other players from all over the country.

Unfortunately, modern video games can also promote certain negative themes, including violence, sexual deviance, and misogyny, and like it or not, these games can have a negative influence on your children and even lead to addiction.

Video Game Addiction

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that video game addiction is a reality and is something parents should be wary of. In fact, a new study by a team of experts that has determined that it is a global problem that certain risk factors, including lack of social skills and impulse control, may predispose a person to this condition.

In the study in question, over 3,000 students in grades 3 through 8 were studied over the course of two years. Nearly 9% of the students were determined to be pathological gamers according to guidelines established by the American Psychiatric Association for gambling addiction.

Children in the study who were described as pathological gamers played, on average, 31 hours of games per week. Stemming from this addiction were a series of social problems that could damage their quality of life including depression, anxiety, social fears, and poor academic performance in school.

The data, published in the journal Pediatrics, supports previous findings and suggests that emotional, social, and academic problems are symptoms of excessive gaming rather than a causes and increase as a child becomes more addicted in video games. Conversely, when children reduced their usage, these symptoms decreased, as well.

What Parents Can Do

While video games, like TV, may seem like a fact of life with children, keep in mind that, as a parent, you can take steps to help moderate the amount of games your kids play, and here are some helpful tips.

  1. Delay Onset of Play. Once kids get started on the gaming path, it is difficult to remove it from their psyche, so the best approach is to avoid video games when they are young. This will also set the stage to help them develop other interests.
  2. Remember to set limits, and more importantly, stick with them. As parents, we wrestle with wanting to be liked versus doing what's best. Limiting or removing video games my not make you popular, but being a parent involves making some tough decisions.
  3. Find alternative activities. If you look around the house, there are countless opportunities to learn or build something, it just takes a little creativity and initiative. Again, it is best to start when they are younger.
  4. Encourage them to get outside. Left to their own devices, kids will find things to do outside of the house, so give them a little nudge to get off the couch and into the great outdoors.
  5. Have them help you around the house. I realize that when kids help out, it does not necessarily make life easier, but the quality time you get to spend with your kids makes up for the added work it may entail.
  6. Organize activities with other kids. This would entail teaming up with other parents, but the presence of other kids is a great way to inspire your children to get up off the couch and play.
  7. Join in the fun. Up to a certain age, kids love to play with parents, and would welcome the opportunity, so take advantage of this time with your kids because it will pass you by faster than you think.

The allure of video games is almost irresistible for parents because, like TV, it takes the job of entertaining your kids out of their hands. However, the long term consequences can come back to haunt you, so take the time to steer your kids in a healthier direction. They may even thank you in the end.

For more information about video game addiction, speak with your pediatrician and visit the website for Video Game Addiction.

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