Video Games are Distance Learning, Too

By Lenore Skenazy

March 19, 2020 5 min read

Seven days in a row, 19 hours a day — not counting time for meals, Snapchat and that online math assignment.

That could be how long your kids have been playing Fortnite since the quarantine began — and that is perfectly fine. In fact, maybe it's time for you to join them.

Seriously, there are a couple of bigger things to worry about now, aren't there, than whether video games are the optimal form of child enrichment. The good news — no, not the totally good news we're all waiting for from science — is not only that they don't make kids violent and dumb but also that they are a force for social, educational and emotional good — even when the kids are blowing things, and each other, up.

"All the claims that have been around for years about the harm of them — I take it as my job as a researcher to see what's the evidence for these claims," says Dr. Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College (and a co-founder, with me, of Let Grow). Upon researching the research, Gray discovered, "The bulk is showing positive effects."

In fact, one study that he found particularly robust asked thousands of parents to estimate the amount of time their kids spent playing video games. The researchers also analyzed the kids' social maturity based on teachers' reports, how well they were doing in school, their emotional stability and so on. The result? "The ones who were playing at least five hours a week were significantly higher on every one of those measures," says Gray.

Jeff Gale, a dad in Orinda, California, has seen his own son, almost 7, transformed by a video game he got when he turned 6: Fortnite. Yes, Fortnite.

Before getting the game, the boy was very quiet, somewhat overshadowed by his two older sisters. But learning to play the game "gave him incredible confidence," says Gale, "and his communication skills got better, too."

While you may not be totally psyched about listening to your kids explain the finer details of Minecraft every single day for the foreseeable future (let's hurry up with those clinical trials!), one way to make it more tolerable is for you to get in the pixel-trenches with them — or at least watch what they're actually doing.

"You're learning what captivates your kid; you're learning how your kid is learning," says Anne Collier, executive director of the Net Safety Collaborative. And once in a while, she added, "Without being too annoying, ask them, 'What's going on there?' or, 'Why did you choose that guy?'"

The next step could be asking them to show you how to play. But be forewarned: "I know of one father whose kid introduced him to House of the Dead 2 on Sega maybe 20 years ago," says Chris Byrne, also known as The Toy Guy. "He got so into it that he kept playing it after his kid went to bed."

That could be you soon, too. After all, the reason video games are so massively popular is that they give people whole new worlds to explore. The fact that the games may be based on war or some other violent fight to the finish? There's even an upside to that, parents. Come on, stay with me: Often the kids are playing with a team they have to rely on to stay "alive," creating an intense sense of community, which all of us — kids and parents — could use right now.

Besides, competition is just a basic human drive. The most popular games are challenging. "They make you want to do better next time," says Byrne. "It's not like one of those cooperative games where everybody wins because Bunny gets her napkin."

Difficulty and danger are what make the games intense enough to ward off despair.

So, yes. It's a war in there. But it's a war out here, too. And it's nice to battle something you can beat.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay

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