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Should Kids Play Video Games? 10 Strategies for Safer Gaming

Research shows that video games can have both positive and negative effects on children — depending on how, when, and what games they play.

Research shows that video games can have both positive and negative effects on children — depending on how, when, and what games they play.

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      Can Playing Video Games Harm Children?  

      Ever since video games were invented, parents have held different opinions about the effects that these games have on their kids. 

      Video games have long been criticized for their negative influence on children, but they've also been shown to have some developmental benefits. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, there's no denying that video games are popular with America’s youth.

      According to the American Academy of Pediatrics [*]:

      More than 90% of kids over the age of two play video games, and children between 8-17 years of age play more than 90 minutes every day on average.

      Whether you want to limit screen time in your household or just keep an eye on the types of games that your children play, there are tools and strategies available to help. 

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      What Are the Benefits and Risks of Kids Playing Video Games?

      More than 75% of American households and families own a video game console [*], so chances are high that your kids will be exposed to video games at some point — whether it's at home or at a friend's house. Depending on what study you read, that exposure could be negative or beneficial.

      For most video game critics, it's excessive video game play that threatens children's health. 

      One recent study found that large amounts of screen time can hinder social skills and academic development in children, and contribute to a variety of physical and mental health conditions [*]. The World Health Organization (WHO) even came up with a term for the lack of control over video game play — calling it "gaming disorder" [*].

      Other concerns have been raised, too, such as aggressive behavior in children linked to playing violent video games [*] and competitive multiplayer games [*]. Online games have their own unique risks, with one survey finding 90% of online gamers experience cyberbullying, and 40% encounter racism [*].  

      But there are also benefits of video game play, such as gamer children showing better cognitive and problem-solving skills than those who have never played [*]. 

      One study even showed that regularly playing Super Mario 64 could increase the gray matter in several critical brain regions [*]. 

      According to a Vice survey, video games may help kids create friendships as well, with 60% of Gen Z gamers enjoying online friendships as much as their real life or in-person friendships. The same study found that over 75% of young people said gaming helped them relax and relieve stress and anxiety [*].

      Here's a brief rundown of the major benefits and risks: 

      Benefits of gaming for kids
      Risks associated with kids playing video games
      Improved cognitive abilities. Improvements are related to impulse control and working memory [*].
      Sleep issues. Excessive gaming can interfere with sleep quality — leading to concentration and memory issues when awake [*].
      Stronger social connections. Helps to build stronger social bonds with other children [* *].
      Cyberbullying. Gaming can put children at risk of experiencing harassment and hate speech [*].
      Increased brain function. Growth in brain regions associated with fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness [*].
      Aggression. Playing violent and competitive games may increase aggression in players and their social networks [* *].

      Along with the mental health and developmental impacts of gaming on kids, there's also a concern about security. Regular unmonitored online gaming may put children in greater danger of online predators, scammers, and hackers.

      🥇 Set time limits on apps, get warned if your child is being bullied online, and more. Aura’s award-winning parental controls help you keep tabs on your children when they’re online and protect them from online threats. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      How To Help Your Child Play Games Safely (and in Moderation)

      1. Set clear time limits on your child’s gaming time
      2. Know what games your child plays — and if they’re appropriate
      3. Improve the quality of gaming content 
      4. Set up monitoring for cyberbullying and online predators
      5. Promote balance by offering rewards for non-gaming activities 
      6. Show them how to handle abusive players
      7. Be on the lookout for “dark patterns” and manipulative gaming content
      8. Teach your kids how to stay safe from online scams and hackers
      9. Use parental controls provided by a service like Aura
      10. Get help from a professional

      It's unlikely you'll be able to keep your children away from video games entirely — even if you want to. But you can help limit the potential downsides of gaming by implementing these 10 strategies:

      1. Set clear time limits on your child’s gaming time

      While there's no consensus regarding the effects of gaming on children, most experts believe that the risks and downsides associated with gaming primarily come from excessive use.

      Screenshot of Aura’s parental controls app showing time limits on apps, including a 1 hour and 40 minute time limit on YouTube
      Aura lets you set time limits on apps, websites, and games that your children play on their mobile devices. Learn more about Aura’s parental controls app.

      The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends that non-educational screen time be restricted to less than one hour on school days and less than three hours on weekends [*]. 

      How to set limits on your child’s gaming time: 

      • Limit gaming to specific days or times. Set ground rules for the days or times your kids can play video games. For example, you might disallow gaming during meals, family outings, and before bedtime. 
      • Use built-in parental controls. Most devices and consoles have built-in controls to set time limits on gaming. Depending on the device, you can set a play schedule for certain periods of the day, or set a duration of time allowed for gaming.   

      💡 Related: How Do Parental Controls Work? A Guide To Setting Up Your Devices

      2. Know what games your child plays — and if they’re appropriate

      Digital stores and online marketplaces have made it easy for children to access video games made for mature audiences. Some studies have shown that exposure to mature content, such as violence in video games, can have detrimental effects on a child's mental health [*]. 

      Monitor your child's games to ensure that they're age-appropriate and feature content that aligns with your family and parental values. 

      How to restrict certain games:

      Most consoles have built-in content restriction settings that allow you to block unsuitable content based on the user's age. These ratings are typically based on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system [*]: 

      • E (Everyone) may include mild violence or language 
      • E 10+ may include suggestive themes 
      • T (Teen) may include violence and infrequent use of strong language 
      • M (Mature) may contain violence, sexual content, and strong language 
      • AO (Adults Only) may contain graphic violence and sexual content 

      You can also check sites like Common Sense Media for game ratings and reviews from real parents.

      3. Improve the quality of gaming content 

      Research suggests that the quality of gaming and screen time may be more important than the duration [*]. The quality of gaming may be improved with higher quality content, such as educational games — or with co-gaming (i.e., playing games with your child)..  

      How to improve the quality of gaming:

      • Practice co-gaming. One survey found that 65% of parents co-game with their kids as a way to create family memories and relax [*]. Co-gaming can also help you connect with your child, and may help you build shared interests. 
      • Keep consoles in shared spaces. Gaming consoles in shared spaces allow you to better monitor the video game content your child consumes, and it also encourages more family interaction while gaming.

      💡 Related: How To Control Internet Access at Home

      4. Set up monitoring for cyberbullying and online predators

      The more time your kids spend online, the greater their risk of encountering cyberbullying and online predators. This is a scary thought for parents, as one in five children have reported being contacted by a child predator in the last year [*], and cyberbullying can have serious effects on your children's physical and mental health [*].

      How to monitor for cyberthreats:

      • Manage the console privacy settings. Most consoles allow you to control with whom your children are friends online, who can see their gaming activity, and what personal information is made public. 
      • Restrict online features. You can limit your children's online gaming altogether, or you can restrict their access to voice chats, sending and receiving messages, and user-generated content sharing.
      ⚠️ Aura can warn you if your child is being cyberbullied. Along with blocking and limiting access to apps, websites, and content, Aura monitors voice and text chats across over 200 popular PC games — and warns you of cyberbullying and online predators. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      5. Promote balance by offering rewards for non-gaming activities 

      You can encourage your children to explore other interests outside of video games, such as real-world games or sports, by implementing a reward system. This can empower kids to take control of their gaming habits and modify their behaviors on their own. 

      You can even use video games as the reward, offering more video game time or a new video game in exchange for time spent doing something else. 

      6. Show them how to handle abusive players

      The threat of abuse and toxicity is a reality for most online video games. In fact, a recent study found that 60% of gamers have left a gaming session or quit a game altogether because of toxicity [*]. Knowing that your kids could face abuse while online, you need to equip them with the skills to handle this type of behavior. 

      How to manage abusive players:

      • Mute or block them. All consoles allow you to mute or block users via your friends list or through the game directly. 
      • Report them. If you click on a person's gamer profile, you can usually find a report button. You might also be able to visit the game's website or developer website directly to report abusive players. 

      💡 Related: 10 Warning Signs of Cyberbullying (And What You Can Do)

      7. Be on the lookout for “dark patterns” and manipulative gaming content

      "Dark patterns" refer to the tricks used in video games to manipulate players. While game developers use player data to create more intuitive and rewarding in-game experiences, they can also use this information to influence in-game purchases and extend play times [*]. Children may be especially susceptible to these manipulations. 

      How to identify dark patterns:

      • Check for in-game purchases. The ESRB rating system includes a sticker for games that feature in-game purchases using real currency and random items, such as loot boxes. Variable rewards like these may increase the risk of gaming addiction, and waste money on low-value items [*]. 
      • Watch out for exploitative tricks. Some games put social pressures on children that may lead to longer play times and uncontrolled in-game spending. Examples of this may include limited-time challenges and rewards, public events, and social media sharing.

      8. Teach your kids how to stay safe from online scams and hackers

      Many scammers specifically target children in gaming communities, knowing that they're more vulnerable to attacks. According to the Global Cybersecurity Forum (GCF), 72% of children have experienced a cyberthreat of some kind [*]. 

      One of the best ways to keep your kids safe from online scams and hackers is to educate them about the risks and teach them how to deal with them. 

      How to teach your kids about online scams:

      • Show them the warning signs. Familiarize your kids with the major red flags of scams, such as unsolicited contact, requests for personal information, and too-good-to-be-true offers. Encourage them to discuss with you anything out of the ordinary. 
      • Teach them good cyber hygiene practices. Inform your children about the importance of protecting their personal information, avoiding clicking on links, and reading any and all communications carefully. 

      💡 Related: 12 Internet Safety Tips for Kids and Teens

      9. Use parental controls provided by a service like Aura

      Parental controls make it easier to monitor the time your children spend playing games, restrict the content they can access, and block harmful content from reaching them. You can even manage their mobile video game usage and receive real-time alerts remotely. 

      How to use Aura’s parental controls:

      • Set video game time limits. You can place time limits on individual games or the entirety of your child's device usage. You can also restrict certain types of content, block specific games and apps, and pause the internet. 
      • Receive in-game alerts. Aura's parental controls feature in-game monitoring of voice and text messaging in more than 200 popular PC video games. If your child encounters cyberbullying or inappropriate content in these games, you'll know about it.
      🏆 Get Aura’s award-winning parental controls app — for free! Try Aura free for 14 days and keep your whole family safe online.

      10. Get help from a professional 

      Parents need extra help from time to time. If your child is dealing with gaming-related issues, consider reaching out to your pediatrician for support, or contact a mental health professional who specializes in working with children (or even addiction). 

      They might have some resources or strategies that can help you and your child better manage excessive or inappropriate video game play. 

      How To Tell If Your Child Is Playing Video Games Too Much 

      While every kid exhibits different signals, here are some typical warning signs indicating that your child is spending too much time playing video games: 

      • Falling behind in school work. Excessive gaming leaves less time for completing homework and studying and may cause lower attention levels while in class — leading to poorer academic outcomes for your child.  
      • Avoiding social situations. Studies have shown a connection between problematic online gaming and social anxiety [*]. If your child is withdrawing from social situations at home or in public, it could be linked to a gaming problem. 
      • Behavioral changes. Unexplained changes in your child's behavior could be associated with video game play, particularly if you notice elevated levels of aggression [*], hyperactivity and impulsivity [*], or worsening ADHD symptoms [*]. 
      • Physical issues. Overusing video games can have negative physical health outcomes, such as poor hygiene, decreased physical activity, vision problems, and even hand and wrist injuries [*]. 
      • Difficulty sleeping. If your child is often tired or having trouble sleeping, the time and mental stimulation involved with video games might be responsible — as video games can delay bedtimes, make it harder to fall asleep, and disrupt sleep quality [*].
      • Displaying obsessiveness. More than 8% of children under 18 could be addicted to video games [*]; so look for signs of video game dependence, such as obsessive video game talk, acting distracted and dismissive when not playing, and using gaming as an escape.  

      If you spot any of these red flags, consider implementing some or all of the tips above to instill more moderation and safety in your child's video game habits. 

      The Bottom Line: Video Games Don’t Have To Be Bad For Children

      From consoles like Nintendo and xBox to mobile and PC gaming, video games are available on nearly every device your child uses. 

      To ensure your kids are getting quality gaming and screen time, you need to know what your kids are playing, when they're playing, and how they're playing. 

      You can do that on your own by using the advice provided in this guide, or you can enlist the help of an all-in-one solution like Aura. Offering powerful digital security tools and parental controls like in-game alerts, game blockers, and gaming time limits, Aura makes it easier to protect your family members while they play.

      Protect your kids from cyberbullying, excessive screen time, and scams. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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