Sunday, November 29, 2009

Survey Reveals Gaming the Medium of Choice Parents Can Use Games to Foster Kids' Development

(MS) -- Thanks to rapid and seemingly nonstop advancements in technology, individuals today are inundated with more stimulation than ever before. Television, the Internet, video games, and a host of other stimuli provide a slew of daily entertainment activities which adults and children alike have at their constant disposal.

Of those ever-present mediums, none is more preferred than console video gaming among those age 34 and younger. So says a survey from The Harrison Group., which used a broad comparison of 17 different entertainment activities, including watching television, surfing the Internet, attending live sporting events, and reading, to determine the most preferred entertainment outlet overall with respect to participation frequency.

While the results likely do not surprise the nation's parents, they more than likely do cause some concern, as many parents worry their children rely too much on video games for entertainment. Recognizing those concerns, Activision has teamed with Dr. Cheryl Olson, co-director for the Center for Mental Health and Media, to produce a series of seven videos that provide information on how parents and teachers can optimize children's use of games and key issues parents face with respect to children or adolescents and video games.

* Encourage games that get kids off the couch. Upon hearing that kids prefer video gaming over any other medium, parents no doubt envision a nation of young, out-of-shape couch potatoes idling away their time without ever exercising. However, today's most popular games are unlike those of years past. Today's most popular games often mandate that kids get off the sofa, be it to dance, strum away on their favorite instrument or mimic sports moves such as bowling, skateboarding or tennis.

What's more, the survey found that boys who played realistic sports video games, including basketball, football and skateboarding, spent significantly more time on real-world exercise than boys who did not play those games. In fact, some boys even noted the games indirectly encouraged them to participate in the very activities the games mimicked.

"Like in basketball," responded one survey participant. "If you see them do a fancy crossover in the video game, you want to learn how to do the same thing."

* Don't overlook the intellectual stimulation and other benefits games can provide. Another common concern many parents have about video games is that they can turn kids' brains into something that bears a close resemblance to pudding. However, children who excel at video games often must employ strategy and other intellectual processes to be successful, whereas television often does a child's thinking for him.

Another benefit not to be overlooked is the decreased exposure to advertising. When watching television, children are typically deluged with ads promoting unhealthy foods that can trigger overeating and lead to weight gain. However, video games require much more interaction than simply watching television, kids are far less likely to snack while playing.

* Manage kids' video game time. Overinvolvement in any one activity can disrupt a child's development. And video games are no exception. In fact, the survey found that kids spend approximately 19 percent of their entertainment time playing video games. However, because parents might not have grown up playing video games, it is common to apply different standards to gaming than other activities. For example, a child who plays basketball or practices the piano for two hours per day might be seen as dedicated, whereas a child who plays video games two hours per day might be seen as overindulging. In general, a child who plays video games a lot will likely develop normally so long as there is still ample time spent on other activities, such as getting together with friends or participating in team sports.

Dr. Olson also recommends setting concrete standards, such as limiting gaming to 30 minutes on school nights or not allowing gaming until homework is completed. In addition, Dr. Olson notes the importance of where consoles are located in the house.

"If possible, keep game consoles and computers out of your child's bedroom," says Olson. "An alternative is to put a basket on the kitchen counter, and have the kids deposit their game controllers, computer mice or cell phones in the basket when they go to bed each night."

* Purchase games that encourage interaction with other gamers. No medium, especially video games, has proven immune to the latest technological advancements in communications. Thanks to those advancements, today's gamers are far less isolated than gamers of years past. Many game consoles can now connect to the Internet, enabling kids to play their friends online while encouraging and fostering social interaction in the process.

In spite of those games, Dr. Olson warns that children who play by themselves, never playing online or face-to-face with other gamers, might require some parental intervention. Be it purchasing games that require interaction with others or speaking to a pediatrician or mental health professional, parents should take steps to ensure their kids are using their gaming time to foster social interaction and not stifle it.

The first of Dr. Olsons's videos are available online at The full series will be made available throughout the holiday season.

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