26/08/2014 13:05 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Why Computer Games Can Be Good For Our Children

An 8 year old boy playing minecraft on his computer Apple IPAD in his bedroom at home.

In the summer holidays my children have been going to a day camp to have fun instead of being dragged around prohibitively expensive cinemas and attractions getting on each other's (and my) nerves.

Or worse, going mental in the living room while I try to work. But despite the fact they've spent the entire day playing laser tag, rehearsing plays, climbing trees and going for hikes in the woods, I still have massive parental guilt.

Because the moment they get home, they head straight to the Xbox to play games.

I've just about come to terms with this because their favourite game is Minecraft – the virtual block building game.

It's a kind of Lego for kids and I reason that it must be good for them because Lego never did me any harm when I was growing up. And at least they're not playing Zombie Flesh Doom or World of Wipeout, or whatever the more grown-up games are called.

But, still, remotely engaging in some hand-control action can't be good for them, I reckon.
They should be reading, writing, adding up and taking away.

The 12-year-old should be creating clothes on the sewing machine we bought her for Christmas (used once).

The nine-year-old should be practising his guitar to justify the cost of those lessons I've been forking out for. The six-year-old should be making collages.

And so the parental guilt mounts up.

"I should be taking them out" (even though they've been out all day).

"I should be teaching them to cook" (even though I prefer the idea of a scorch-free kitchen.

"I should be playing chess, Scrabble or Monopoly with them" (even though I've never taught them to play any of the above).

In short, I just feel I should be interacting with them in a way my mum and dad never interacted with me and my brothers because I'm a modern parent. Innit!

And those computer games they're, well, evil ain't they?

And the kids who play them are well fick ain't they?

And dead aggressive!


Research – respected stuff by boffins at Oxford University, not bogus insights made by a gaming company – concluded that kids who play computer games for up to an hour a day are HAPPIER, more SOCIABLE and less HYPERACTIVE than those who don't play at all.

Oh be still my guilty beating heart. How good is that news for us permanently guilty time-starved parents?

The researchers discovered that despite widespread fears computer game usage is harmful, it could be beneficial for boys and girls aged between 10 and 15 to play for up to 60 minutes a day.

The study tested almost 5,000 children and compared those who didn't play at all with those who spent varying periods of time playing console games such as Xbox, Nintendo Wii and Sony Play Stations, or computer-based games.

It concluded: "Young people who indulged in a little video game-playing were associated with being better adjusted than those who had never played or those who were on video games for three hours or more.

"Those who played video games for less than an hour... were associated with the highest levels of sociability and were most likely to say they were satisfied with their lives.

"They also appeared to have fewer friendship and emotional problems, and reported less hyperactivity than the other groups."

The study said there were good reasons to think that game-playing could have beneficial effects when compared with non-interactive entertainment, such as watching TV.

It said: "Games provide a wide range of novel cognitive challenges, opportunities for exploration, relaxation and socialisation with peers.

"Like non-digitally mediated forms of child play, games may encourage child well-being and healthy social adjustment."

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, estimates that three in four British children and teenagers play video games on a daily basis.

It said previous research shows that roughly half of young people in the UK are 'light players' of the kind the study suggests is beneficial.

Nearly one-third of children spend between one and three hours, while between 10 and 15 per cent spend more than three hours a day on such electronic games.

But it isn't all good news for the indifferent parent – for kids who played 'excessively' (for more than three hours a day) did see some harmful effects and appeared to be less well-adjusted.

The study suggested 'this could be because they miss out on other enriching activities and possibly expose themselves to inappropriate content designed for adults'.

Dr Andrew Przybylski, the report's author, said that 'high levels of video game-playing appear to be only weakly linked to children's behavioural problems in the real world'.

He said: "Likewise, the small, positive effects we observed for low levels of play on electronic games do not support the idea that video games on their own can help children develop in an increasingly digital world."

That's pretty clear then: let your kids game and be happy. And stop feeling so guilty about whether you're bringing them up in the right or wrong way.