Wednesday 15 October 2014

Playing It All Out. Why Computer Games Aren't All Bad

Some parents think that computer games are a bad influence. They're a waste of time, the kids aren't learning, they ruin kids' attention spans, they're violent... the list of grumbles is endless. I recognise the sentiment as I used to feel the same.
But are computer games deserving of this bad reputation? There are actually lots of terrific Nintendo Wii games and PlayStation games out there; many of these console games are available at Tesco with various benefits for kids.

Here are just a few reasons why computer games aren't all bad:

Attention span
Far from giving kids shorter attention spans, some studies have actually suggested that playing computer games may help kids who have attention or concentration issues, up to and including ADHD. The suggestion that computer games may help ADHD is centred around a relatively new concept called neurofeedback. Although some of the evidence is anecdotal, I have personally seen Aaron's concentration improve from playing computer games.

Motor skills and coordination
The need for quick reaction times with computer games can train kids to react quicker to stimuli, and perhaps even make them better at sports, coordinated tasks, and activities which require hand eye coordination. This I have very much witnessed with Aaron. His ability with a mouse, and his accuracy has developed in leaps and bounds this Summer from the motor skills the use of the mouse on my computer requires. Wanting to complete a game, that includes his favourite TV characters, seems to give him the resilience to keep trying till he gets it right. Literally his abilities transformed, just from pure dedication to wanting to be able to do it and like any 4 year old "by himself". They don't like help with anything do they?

Social skills and team attitude
Multiplayer and online games can teach children how to work as a team, along with demonstrating social skills and allowing them to hone these new found attitudes. Being that Aaron is only 4, he hasn't experienced this side of computer games yet. I do understand the importance of social and team skills though due to seeing him develop at football. We attend football practice every Friday. The first week there were 30 children and for 45 minutes they had a ball each, with the coach talking them through various techniques. Then for the last 15 minutes they had to put bibs on top of their clothes, and Aaron was in the orange team. All of a sudden two teams - about 12 boys - were chasing ONE ball, up and down the hall. He didn't understand that they were all chasing one ball and he certainly didn't "get" that he was part of a team. We then missed the following week as he was too tired that Friday evening after his first week of full days as school (after 2 weeks of half days). When we returned, the penny had dropped. He adopted a team identity, and ran after the ball, as part of a team. He'd mentally processed what was required in the fortnight between Fridays. I'd taken being in a team for granted, but when it is new to you, it takes a small while for the penny to drop.

When confidence is lacking, playing computer games can really help. Aaron sees himself improving and gaining new skills while getting better at a chosen game. He then talks about this with friends and cousins, and it helps with social confidence too. The main leap in confidence is with his staying power. Before he started playing games on my computer he was developing a tendency to want to give up if he did not do something perfect first time. The BIGGEST thing that playing computer games has taught him is the principle of "practice makes perfect" and until his time on my computer, I'll be honest I was struggling to drive this home to him. The games he tends to play the most are the ones on Nick Junior. He adores Ben and Holly and Peppa Pig so it's perfect. He started with a much simpler game on the Thomas and Friends Facebook page (which isn't there anymore as it was part of a competition that came to an end). He then moved onto the games on (as you see in the collage - pics that were taken back in July). Now he's mostly on Nick Junior and he's BRILLIANT at Diego Puzzle Pyramid, and didn't ask me for any help AT ALL. He also knows how to navigate round the site. We spend a lot of one-to-one time, so computer game time tends to be when he wants to chill and Mummy's busy. I don't over use it, or use it as an electronic childminder.

There are so many educational games on the market now: history based games, maths games, science games and even city building games can help your children with their school work! This I know will come with time more and more. Aaron's not at the stage yet where he has homework that requires going online but I know the time will come, sooner rather than later. He's already learned so much from the games he does play.

Concentration skills
Say what you like about computer games, they do require concentration! In this fast-paced internet driven world, attention is often flicking from one new thing to another, but playing a computer game requires and develops focus. This can be an excellent skill for children to master, as it helps them in school and maybe even in their future career. If you watch TV, have a look, and you will notice that the camera shot changes every 3 to 4 seconds, such is the TV's wish to keep us watching. As a society we've lost the ability to stay hooked. I sometimes think we've become a nation of flickers (channel flickers). We have so many children's channels that Aaron turns over if the adverts come on, but yes, computer games really see him concentrate. I love though that if I ask him to get off, the minute he finishes his game he will. So given that we do get up early enough in the morning, I have even been known to let him play a game while I am in the shower, and he is a good boy and gets off the computer then when I tell him to.

The computer game world is a remarkably multi-faceted business: it's not all car racing and war games. Not all games are violent or bad for kids, and there are age ratings to help you pick the most appropriate game levels for your kids. Many consoles even allow you to set parental controls so you can ensure your children are only playing age-appropriate games. That way, you’re in control at all times. I have felt good the last few months as ALL of the games Aaron plays are age appropriate BUT I had an experience at the weekend, where he played 2 games on his cousin's phones and then later expected me to have them on my phone. I downloaded them, and they each were free BUT you could buy things (at the push of a button) in the game that were anything from 69 pence to 69 pounds. The minute I saw this, I took both games right off my phone. It made me thankful that we are still at the stage of games for 4 year olds. So yes, dear reader, beware of downloadable games, especially on your phone. I will be remaining with just our much loved Thomas on the phone for now.

Aaron has once or twice asked if he can play games on our TV, and I do have a Nintendo Wii that I haven't had out since his arrival. When we decluttered when pregnant my Mum helped me pack it away. I think I will have to dig it out and hook it up as I remember having some games I know Aaron would adore (in particular a penguin one). We live in such a technologically advanced world now, I think it is tough to keep them away from computers. Even in Reception (he just started school this September) they have a large screen on the wall. Aaron always calls it a "scream" bless him. His vocabulary is so advanced for his 4 years and his pronunciation so so good, that the odd word he says wrong like that, I don't always correct him, as my little man is just growing up way too fast.

You may recognise the original collage, below, I did back in July (the same day the pics above were taken) when he actually discovered computer games. Wow he has come on leaps and bounds since then in terms of what he can do. Back then it was just drag and drop, whereas now he can navigate a whole website (Nick Junior) and exhibits so many computer and problem solving skills.

1 comment:

  1. You've made me re-think my view - so pleased you can both enjoy them, if you know what I mean! X


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