There seems to be a rift in opinions pertaining to the relative harm that video games can cause to children. Of course, there is a long-standing debate about whether the level of violence has an effect on kids, but in a culture that endorses violence in other forms of media, this seems to be a fallacious argument at best. However, it cannot be denied that kids who spend hours planted on the couch in front of video games may not enjoy the healthiest lifestyle. So is video gaming unhealthy for kids? The short answer is that it certainly can be if conditions go unchecked.
In truth, video games can offer kids a number of health benefits if they’re utilized correctly. Games in general help kids to develop mental processes such as spatial reasoning and problem solving, and they can even improve hand-eye coordination. They can also provide for an element of socialization, thanks to the advent of online and co-op features for most consoles. But when it comes to the physical health of a child, most parents see nothing but the potential for a little couch potato who sits all day, snacking on Cheetos and soda. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many games and game consoles have found ways to get kids physically involved with the very games they love to play. The Wii was the first machine to popularize the use of motion sensor technology, with wireless paddles that allow users a free range of motion and a host of sports games geared towards getting kids off the couch and into motion, simulating the movements required for bowling, tennis, and baseball (just to name a few).
They then went a step further with the Wii Fit, adding a balance board so that activities like jogging, skiing, and full-body motions could be tracked and turned into gameplay.
Of course, it wasn’t long before Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon, introducing the Xbox Kinect. Much like the Wii, it employs motion-sensor technology to put users into the game, but it has the added benefits of a next-gen console to work with, providing HD graphics and a host of games for older kids. And even if parents don’t want to shell out to purchase extra machines, there is always DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). All you need is the dance pad and a play date to get your kids moving and sweating at home.
As for games that require no movement, the simple solution is to limit the time you allow kids to spend on them. Children who spend hours of free time engaged in playing video games when they could be outside running around are obviously going to be less healthy overall than kids who play sports, ride bikes, and lead an active life. So if you need to offer your kids some incentive to move around once in a while, consider making it a condition of their continued usage of game consoles, or simply purchase games that force your kids to move while they play. Either way you’ll end up with healthier, happier children.