Dear Dr. Debbie,
Our 3-year-old has been captivated by computer games since his aunt showed him a phone app with rotating, meowing cat heads before he could crawl. In fact, his first successful crawl across the living room floor had a game controller as his goal. Since then he has added more and more games as his skills have progressed.
Should we set a limit as to how much of his time is spent on video and computer games? We are concerned about some of the animated violence between the good guys and the bad guys, but he doesn’t seem to imitate what he sees when he works through conflicts with real people. And there are plenty of totally nonviolent “academic” games he plays which have helped him to learn about letters, numbers, shapes and colors.
Mom and Dad are Gamers
Don’t miss last week’s column Dysfunctional soccer — Good Parenting
Yes, the classic research on media violence and imitative behavior http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/obsonline/bandura-and-bobo.html cautions against letting children of any age watch violent media and play violent video and computer games. In the experiment, an inflatable doll, the Bobo clown, was pummeled by an adult actor on screen. This research followed the concern that came with the arrival of television, namely that children would follow the examples set on the tube. Along with imitating specific aggressive actions — children in the classic experiment did indeed slug away at the doll — more recent studies have looked at the elevation of children’s stress levels when the action heats up on the screen. Monitoring children’s emotions during play is always a good idea.
Based on a long term study of TV habits during childhood and aggressive behavior in early adulthood, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the amount of violent screen time may have as much influence over aggressive behavior as the content. They recommend no more than two hours of screen time — of any content — per day. The National Association for the Education of Young Children says in its position paper on the use of technology and media in a child care setting that preschoolers need to know how to use technology, under adult supervision for content, of course, but concur with time limits. NAEYC further recommends that children under the age of 2 should have no screen time at all (in the child care setting).
If, as your signature suggests, technology is woven into the fabric of your family, you can use your best judgment about what and how much gaming your child does. There are indeed some wonderful age-appropriate games that foster eye-hand coordination, learning across all the curriculum areas, and support self-esteem by encouraging and cheering the player on as he plays. With adult guidance, computerized games can even teach child-to-child social skills as the children are taught how to share, take turns and help each other to play. Balancing his game playing with other needs — to run around, to interact with other children, to be in nature, to manipulate real objects in the three-dimensional world, to think creatively — you can use technology as an enrichment.
Beyond the tender years of early childhood, the controversy rages on. Here’s an argument in favor of violent media. The authors actually found a reduction in real-life violence when new movies and games came out. As if pretend violence satisfied the aggressive drive rather than fueled it.
For now, however, keep a close eye on your son’s screen.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]