9 Benefits of Video Games for Your Child

Age-appropriate video games played in moderation can help young kids develop educationally, socially, and physically.

01 of 10

Why Video Games Can Be Beneficial

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As parents, we tend to focus more on the potential dangers than on the benefits of video games. But since these games are a normal part of modern childhood, it's good to know that video games can be a powerful tool to help children develop certain life skills. Understanding the benefits can help parents choose appropriate leisure-time games, help educators seek ways to supplement classroom teaching, and help game developers create games that teach.

In 2010, I wrote a research paper, "Children's Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development," featured in the Review of General Psychology. The research included results from studies I led at Harvard Medical School and survey data compiled from interviewing over 1,000 public school students. Based on my research, here are nine reasons why video games can be beneficial to your child's growth and education.

02 of 10

Video Games Can Teach Problem-Solving Skills

boys playing video games

Video games can help children's brain development. For example, when my son was a young adolescent, I watched him play Legend of Zelda games. He had to search, negotiate, plan, and try different approaches to advance. Around the time of my research, many other games involve planning and problem-solving such as Bakugan: Defenders of the Core were being released.

In addition, "modding," the process by which players customize their character's appearance and develop new game levels, also allows for creative self-expression, a deep understanding of game rules and structure, and new ways of highlighting personalities and interests. So, even if video games aren't labeled "educational," they can still help children learn to make decisions, use strategies, anticipate consequences, and express their personalities.

03 of 10

Video Games Can Inspire Interest in History and Culture

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The content of certain video games can encourage kids to read and to research. For example, video games such as Age of Mythology, Civilization, and Age of Empires may spark a child's interest in world history, geography, ancient cultures, and international relations, especially if parents are alert to opportunities.

To quote researchers David Shaffer and James Gee: "When children have parents who help turn Age of Mythology into an island of expertise, tying it to books, Internet sites, museums, and media about mythology, cultures and geography, the children pick up a wide range of complex language, content and connections that serve as preparation for future learning of a highly complex and deep sort."

What's more, these games often allow children to design and exchange maps or other custom content, helping them acquire creative and technical skills while having fun.

04 of 10

Video Games Can Help Kids Make Friends

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In contrast to their parents, most young kids see video games as a social activity, not an isolating one. Video games create a common ground for young kids to make friends, hang out, and provide structured time with friends.

In our research, focus groups of adolescent boys said games were a frequent focus for conversation among their peers. For example, one boy revealed that his peers at school mostly talked about "girls and games—the two Gs."

In addition, our research found that children with mild learning disabilities were likely to choose "making new friends" as a reason they played video games.

05 of 10

Video Games Can Encourage Exercise

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In my research, players (specifically boys) talked about learning new moves from sports video games and practicing them on the basketball court or skateboards. Some took up new sports after being introduced to them in video games.

As one boy revealed in a research focus group, "In the games that are real, which are mostly the sports games, you see them do amazing plays. If you go outside and try them and keep practicing, you could get better."

Research showed that playing realistic sports video games (excluding tournament fighting) led to an increased time spent playing sports and exercising in real life.

06 of 10

Video Games Can Promote the Joy of Competition

kids playing video games

It's normal and healthy for kids to compete with their peers as they jockey for status and recognition. In my surveys and focus group studies with young teens, "I like to compete with other people and win" was one of the most popular reasons for playing video games—again, especially for boys.

Video games are a safe place to express those competitive urges and can give children who don't prefer sports a chance to excel.

07 of 10

Video Games Can Offer Leadership Opportunities

Boy Playing Xbox Video Game

Children playing video games in groups often take turns leading and following, depending on who has specific skills needed in that game. Explaining and demonstrating games is good for developing leadership skills such as persuading and motivating others and mediating disputes.

In addition, online multi-player games offer teens a rare chance to participate in, and sometimes lead, a diverse, mixed-age team. And nobody cares how old you are if you can lead the team to victory.

08 of 10

Video Games Can Spark Creativity

Boy Writing in Notebook with Chalkboard Behind Him

An experimental study published in the Creativity Research Journal found a link between certain video games and creativity. The 352 participants either played Minecraft with or without instruction, watched a TV show, or played a race car game.

The researchers found that those who played Minecraft without instruction completed subsequent tasks with the most creativity. Researchers speculate this may be because they were given the most freedom to think on their own while playing.

09 of 10

Video Games Can Provide Teaching Opportunities

kids playing video games

Roughly one-third of the children we studied said they played video games in part because they liked to teach others how to play. As one boy's dad revealed during research, "Most of the interaction my son has with his buddies is about solving situations within a game. It's all about how do you go from this place to that place, or collect the certain things that you need, and combine them in ways that are going to help you to succeed."

Some children gain status as the "go-to" kid who knows how to beat the toughest parts of a game. Teaching others builds social and communication skills, as well as patience.

10 of 10

Video Games Can Bring Parents and Kids Together

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Thanks to my research, I'll always remember watching my friend's 10-year-old daughter teach her how to play Guitar Hero. The game happened to include favorite songs from my friend's teen and college years, which helped draw her in. The best part was seeing the daughter become an expert and share gaming skills with her mom—a reversal of the usual parent-child roles.

Now that some video game systems are friendlier to novice players, sharing game time is increasingly possible. Plus, playing a video game side-by-side encourages easy conversation, which in turn may encourage your child to share their problems and triumphs with you.

Cheryl K. Olson, Sc.D., is an expert in health behavior change and healthy child development. She is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the co-author of the book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do.

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