Sunday 23 October 2016

Let's put down our own on-line toys and talk to the kids

Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30

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Thinkstock Images

The word Minecraft sets the hairs on the back of my neck at right angles to the ground. I know I am not alone in this alarming reaction. A recent radio programme mentioned the word and was astonished to find its phone lines jammed by fraught parents.

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For those who haven't heard of it, Minecraft is a video game that almost every young child I've met is obsessed with. It's not the worst game at all. It's not violent or inappropriate. In fact, it's quite creative. But it seems to have incredibly addictive qualities that cause children to want to play it all day long, every day, non-stop.

Most of the parents ringing in to the radio show to complain agreed that trying to get their children to stop playing the game was causing huge problems. Turning off Minecraft while a child is in the middle of playing it is not for the faint-hearted.

Maybe parents don't need to be so eager to switch video games off. New research shows playing video games for an hour a day is good for children and can help them to become more well-adjusted human beings. Apparently video games can aid your child's development and make them happier, more helpful and kind to others.

The new study, from the University of Oxford, also states that playing video games will make your child less likely to worry about problems or to misbehave.

Now, before we all rush out and stock up on every video game we can get our hands on and shove little Johnny and Mary in front of the screen for the next six years, the study does emphasise that moderation is key.

Psychologist Dr Andrew Przybylski stressed that more than three hours of play each day will result in problems. He said that too much time in front of a screen can cause children to become hyperactive, inattentive and have a lack of empathy.

The survey involved 5,000 young people aged between 10 and 15. It discovered that 75pc of them played video games daily.

"In a research environment that is often polarised between those who believe games have an extremely beneficial role and those who link them to violent acts, this research could provide a new and more nuanced standpoint," said Przybylski.

He has a point there. Research into the pros and cons of video games is often contradictory. Studies into the effects of playing violent games have described many negative effects on the players - from increased aggression to high blood pressure to a desensitisation to violence.

On the other hand, positive studies have told us that playing video games improves hand-eye coordination. We're constantly being told that surgeons who play video games are better and speedier at laparoscopic procedures. Apparently playing games also stimulates the imagination and improves cognitive thinking.

Who are we to believe? Przybylski said that being engaged in video games could give children a common language. He cited one of the most likely reasons for the positive impact that came from a minimum amount of gaming was that the kids were having fun.

A child who is having fun is a happy child. But, kids can also have fun playing games outside. They can be stimulated by reading or playing board games. They can improve hand-eye co-ordination by playing sports. Do they really need video games?

Dr Paul Weigle, a paediatric and adolescent psychiatrist in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, in the US, thinks they do if they are to feel comfortable with their peers. "Friendships are often based on mutual interests. For better or worse most kids are spending a substantial amount of time playing video games. Kids who aren't playing video games can feel left out of the conversation."

No one wants their child to be ostracised because of some silly game. But neither do they want a child who sits in front of a screen all day.

We are constantly being told that children and teens are much less physically active now than in prior generations. The result is the alarming increases in obesity in young children.

Perhaps parents need to look at their own lifestyles. Are we really setting a good example for our children? Children watch their parents for guidance and follow their lead. Perhaps we need to put down our phones/Blackberries/iPads/laptops and engage more with our children to set a better example for them.

In the meantime, if your child comes to you and asks if they can start playing Minecraft, save yourself years of shouting, peeling, wrenching, tugging and yanking and just say no!

Sinead Moriarty

Irish Independent

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