Συμβουλές Ψυχολογίας

Children and Screens

The World Health Organization (WHO) leaves no room for dispute. It explicitly states that young children need more physical activity in nature, less sedentary lifestyle as well as adequate and quality sleep. They also need to acquire good habits, physical and emotional health while reducing the chances of childhood obesity associated with diseases in adulthood.

A simple thought is what we should start from. We need to give joy back to our children by reducing the time spent in front of a screen and increasing interactive playtime. Consequently, his/her sleep will improve. However, activities that do not involve intense movement such as storytelling, painting, making a puzzle or singing with parents are thought to be equally important for children's development.

The screen

WHO is also clear on the limits of exposure of young children to screen: children under one year old are prohibited from being exposed to any screen while preschoolers are not allowed to watch TV programmes or play video games for more than one hour a day.

A logical question arises: Do screen exposure and computer use in childhood only have disadvantages? We know well that some of the prohibitions arise precisely because we find it difficult to set and keep boundaries.

Thus, let's look at the advantages of using these media with children from 2-5 years old and judge as parents whether our child ultimately benefits or not from his/her exposure to them. Certainly, the only parameters we need to keep constant are our child's engagement time following the instructions of the experts and our supervision while the child is in front of the screen.

The pros of using computer and tablets

By playing on the computer, young children learn to use the mouse, move the cursor over the screen and learn the basics of computer operation, thus developing their monitoring and controlling skills. Children can also learn the meaning of cause and effect while clicking on a button or using the mouse. Some games allow them to discover basic concepts such as colors, sizes, shapes. They also learn to be careful and alert as such games are usually interactive and the computer reacts to their actions (asks them to find a bigger flower, rewards them, urges them to suggest similar shapes, etc.).

Respectively, the tablet introduces children to math and reading while stimulating and practicing their visual and attention skills.

The benefits of video games: A heretical approach

From the age of 8 until adolescence, children are exposed to video games. The child learns to operate remote control moving both hands differently while developing coordination skills.

Research has shown that some video games can benefit children as they help them to develop different skills. Specifically:

  • Video games promote connection with teammates, both online (when it comes to online multiplayer games) and offline, as about 70% of children share the same interest while playing them.
  • Some games (e.g. puzzle or strategy games) require teamwork and cooperation, improve problem-solving skills, memory and observation, creativity and complex thinking.
  • Depending on their nature, video games can help improve a child's self-esteem or mood. 
  • Some video games develop skills such as logic, information processing speed, visual and space-time manipulation skills.
  • They are more interactive than TV. A video game can help children learn actively Mathematics, History, Language and social issues, or introduce the concept of empathy and sharpen critical thinking.
  • The main purpose of video games is to motivate the player to succeed in the game. Studies show that games affect the child's ability to stay motivated until a task is completed. This kind of commitment may apply to sports and school, too.

Remember: We talk about carefully-chosen video games. It is worth mentioning that Countries such as Canada and Belgium have assigned organizations the choice of toys, their ranking by educational standards and the indication of the age group to which each toy is addressed. Thus, parents and teachers should be informed about the features of the game, its’ use in the school premises and whether it serves educational purposes or not.

Dangers associated with video games

However, games may also be associated to serious dangers in regard to a child's development and health such as:

  • An increase in emotional disorder symptoms
  • An increase in and behavioral disorder symptoms
  • Declines in verbal memory performance
  • Physical complaints
  • Attention problems such as hyperactivity
  • Detrimental school performance
  • Family interaction problems such as less positive parental relations
  • Significant reduced amounts of slow-wave (REM) sleep
  • Modifications in visual selective attention
  • Playing violent video games is a significant risk factor for later physically aggressive behavior

What we should do as parents

In order to minimize the risks associated with using video games, it is advisable to consider the following:

  • We agree with our child on the time spent in front of the screen which is 1 hour per day for children aged 5 to 11 years old.
  • We remove screens and consoles from the child's bedroom.
  • We offer the child different types of toys (education, adventure, strategy, simulation) to develop different skills and areas of interest.
  • We are informed about the content of the child's video games and we make sure that they are suitable for his age and maturity level.
  • We choose a video game that reflects our principles and values: a game that exposes it to diversity, respect, empathy or mutual aid.
  • We play together so we can discuss the game’s values, concepts and ideas.
  • We observe our child while playing the game and if we see his/her behavior changing we spend some time with him/her to understand what is happening.
  • We avoid criticizing the video games he/she loves without having anything else to suggest. 
  • We talk to him/her and learn what makes video games so important to him/her.

Ms. Katerina Hotzoglou is a Clinical Psychologist MA - Child Psychologist MSc - Psychotherapist and Psychologist of Kessaris School

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