Scientists Explain How Video Games Help Kids Reduce Stress and Improve Emotions For Kids

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Video games, like many media sources, have gotten a bad rap for various reasons. They were viewed as “the tool of the devil” much like D&D was in its day by the less informed or less experienced public.  Games have also long been viewed as causing violence despite the complete lack of scientific evidence.  Playing video games also carried a stigma toward the players.  For years the gamer was seen as the anti-social, unclean, irresponsible, overweight boy eating chips in his mother’s basement.

Fortunately, that image has changed over the years; more and more people have grown familiar with video games as the platforms have become more accessible by including mobile gaming on our cell phones.

Gaming itself has proven to have a number of benefits on our brain development, coordination, and social skills.  Science can explain 7 ways video games can help kids.

Statistics regarding Video Games Players: Stereotypes vs Reality

The stereotype of the typical gamer is a male child or teenager. In actuality, the average gamer in 2018 was 34 years old and 72% are over the age of 18.  Forty-five percent of those gamers were actually women. Across all age brackets,  from under age 18 to age 50 or more, the percentage of gamers was relatively the same with only a difference by 9% at the most.

  • Under 18: 28%
  • 18 – 35 years old: 29%
  • 36 – 49 years of age: 20%
  • 50 years old or older: 23%

From the time gaming began in the 80s, the age of gamers has only increased.  In 2011, 91% of kids between the age of 2-17 played video games with 38% of them playing mobile games.  Those same children are now older and still gaming.  Currently, 60% of Americans play video games daily with an average of two gamers in a game-playing household.   That is more than 150 million Americans.

In 2018, 70% of parents view video games as a benefit to their child’s life; 67% of parents who game will play video games with their children on a weekly basis.

Benefits of Video Games for kids

Scientists have proven through about 116 studies that video games not only improve cognitive function but also can change the structure of the brain itself.  The types of games played do make a difference in some of the benefits received. 

A study performed in 2016 at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Mental Health strove to discover if there was any difference on a broad scale of video game players’ overall cognitive ability vs a non-gamer.  It was a survey of 3,195 children ages 6 -11.  The outcome was that if a child played video games for five hours a week or more, they showed higher intellectual functioning, better grades, better relationships with other children, and fewer emotional difficulties.

What are these benefits?

1. Video Games Improve focus or attention:

Studies have shown an improvement in gamers in the area of attention, including sustained attention and selective attention.  These improvements have also shown that the attention areas in the brain are more efficient than non-gamers and are more capable of staying focused on difficult tasks.  These studies were primarily based off of first-person shooter or action games.

2. Video Games Improved visuospatial skills:

Gamers have demonstrated an increased ability to identify visual and spatial relationships among objects.  Of the long-term gamer volunteers who followed a specific video training plan, an enlargement of the hippocampus was seen.  The hippocampus is just one region responsible for semantic memory, visual imagery, and cognitive control. 

3.Improved problem-solving skills:

Puzzle games or role-playing games such as World of Warcraft have shown to improve children’s ability to plan, organize, and use flexible thinking during their gameplay.  This may demonstrate itself in higher grades in school as well.

4. Video Games Give a Boost in Creativity:

In the case of middle school kids, playing video games such as Minecraft has been linked to creativity.  This was determined through the use of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which is a well-respected and validated test.  The children who played video games hit every marker on the test regardless of race or gender.

A separate test was performed to test if short-term gaming had the same creative benefit.  Children were given three different games to play for 30 minutes.  The games were Serious Sam, (a shooter game), Portal 2 (a problem-solving game), or Minecraft.  All games showed at least a temporary improvement in the area of flexibility as it relates to creativity.  Portal 2 showed the best results of the three.

In another study, it was found that gamers tend to be more open to new experiences, which is a trait that lends itself toward creativity as well.

5. Reduce Stress:

Certain video games that are of a simpler structure, such as Angry Birds, can help kids relax.  It has been shown to not only reduce stress but also improve mood.  It is suspected that it may be due to the fact that simpler games are designed to make it easy for kids to win.  This allows them to receive a sense of success and reward relatively quickly.

6. Video Games Improve Social skills and teamwork:

Games work as a social tool in multiple ways.  First, many games can be played with others online and encourage chatting through texting or a headset.  Communities are formed in many games to encourage this.

In addition to this, some aspects of different games require players to work together in order to accomplish a milestone within the game.  This requires communication, planning, and teamwork to accomplish.  In 2012, this cooperation and teamwork was proven, at least on a short-term basis, to increase the possibility of cooperating with or helping others in real life.

Secondly, due to the popularity of games, it is a source of many conversations among peers as they discuss strategies, different games, characters, stats, etc.  If a child does not own a video game, then they might be left out of many conversations unless they find a group that places importance on something different.

7. Provide Emotional Regulation:

Often when a child first begins gaming, parents will see some intense emotions of excitement, frustration, anger, happiness, intense focus, and more.  For the observer, it can create concern that the child is becoming too wrapped up in the game and the negative emotions aren’t good for the child.

Research is actually showing that assumption to be incorrect.  Studies show that the child is being pushed to have to deal with their emotions of fear or anger, but over time, they learn to calm themselves down.  This may take some time, and in some cases, some intervention by the parents.  Yet for the most part, left to their own devices, they learn to regulate their emotions better than children who remain protected from such feelings.  This regulation does carry over to real life.

There is also proof that a child who plays a video game for more than five hours a week shows fewer mental health issues in real life scenarios.  The gamers themselves even talk about how gaming helped them to deal with stress and frustration in their regular lives.

Beyond Childhood

Video games are also being researched to see if they can help elderly people, particularly in the realm of memory.  At the University of California-San Francisco, researchers did studies on older individuals using 3D video games to test if their memory would improve.

After 12 hours of training spread over a month, subjects aged 60 – 85 years of age showed improved performance in the game that exceeded those in their 20s playing the game for the first time.  Impressively, they also showed improvement in working memory and sustained attention, which remained for six months after the training ended.

The fact that it was the 3D format which aided them the most was reinforced through another study of other participants in which some were given 2D games, and others, 3D games.  Those with 3D games showed memory improvement whereas the 2D group showed less improvement.

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Conclusion:

Video games stand to be the resource which we all can benefit from and may even lead to advanced thinking in upcoming generations.

That is not to say that they do not come with certain risks. Currently, parents face legitimate concerns regarding gaming, namely the effects of staring at a screen for hours.  Many studies have shown that screen dependency has repercussions on a child’s brain development, attention span, and desire for immediate gratification; it can even, in a few instances,  trigger an addiction as potent as cocaine.

Screen dependency isn’t just limited to games.  It is also related to social media, texting, emails, and app use.  Therefore, it is important that time regulation is utilized, especially for any child under the age of 10.  Additionally, learning self-restraint and moderation is a healthy approach to many things in life.

While many studies still remain to be done regarding the pros and cons, you can be a bit more relaxed and feel positive about allowing your child to reap these seven scientific benefits of playing video games.


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