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I had a discussion last week with someone who talked about their grandsons playing a lot on the iPad and other gaming consoles and they questioned whether playing on such devices is as bad for kids as watching TV for hours. The truth is in moderation all activities are okay, but often the activities are unmediated and with studies showing kids watch an average of 4 hours of TV per day plus 2 hours of gaming, this is a total of 6 hours that is spent with too much inactivity.
Some TV is good for unwinding as long as the content is age appropriate my son who loves Iron Man saw that the Iron Man: Extremis was new to Netflix and wanted to watch it. I saw the rating was TV:MA so I decided to check it out first and within the first five minutes I knew I didn’t want him watching the content so told him he was only allowed to watch Iron Man: Adventures instead which is a kid friendly version of the Iron Man cartoon.
The same goes for video games, I would never let my seven and four year olds play Call of Duty or any of the MA rated games, but they have just a blast playing Lego Pirates of the Caribbean or many other games that are rated E10+ or in some case Teen. Some games allow you to turn off "gore" which is the difference between an MA rating and a Teen rating, but you don’t often know until you rent or buy the game on whether this is a feature. Example is Sacred 2 for the Xbox360 which is a Diablo like game that allows you to turn off the gore so there is no blood, guts and really makes the rating more playable for younger kids.
Meanwhile, gaming has advantages in that it gives kids challenging ways to encourage thinking outside the box, some games can build analytical skills and this is especially in games where you have to manage resources, build items, manage units and play strategy. Even puzzle games like Plants Vs Zombies can help kids think about strategy and using the right combinations of items to solve problems. These are all good for helping them think and run into problems that require trying and testing things to solve them.
But like anything, they can’t play too much as physical activity needs to be a part of everyone’s daily activities including adults as well as children. I think kids can reasonably get about an hour of game or TV time on a weekday (provided they keep up with school work and homework) and maybe 3-4 hours on a weekend. Provided they spend at least equal or double the time playing outdoors or engaging in physical activity or non-screen time like building blocks, running, sports….etc.
My son has had a computer since he was two and my kids don’t know what it’s like to not have a console, computer or TV in their play room, but I draw the line at letting them have a TV in their bedroom or even a gaming system. I don’t want it to affect their sleep schedule, the bedroom is for sleeping only and not gaming so they will likely never have a TV, computer or game system in their bedroom until they are teenagers.
Just my views and I don’t think playing games or watching TV is bad as long as it is in moderation. My 4 year old loved watching some Leapfrog movies about preschool an math and was able to count to twenty by the end of watching 1 show at four. It is a matter of keeping the content appropriate and not letting the kids watch and play what they want, but being involved and helping make good decisions on what they watch and play.