Video Games and Child Development: What Does the Research Say?
Educational video games can help improve children’s skills.
What do we know already?
Video games and digital media play a large role in many children’s lives. Surveys show that young children (ages 2-4) play video games for an average of about 20 minutes per day. This increases as children grow older. Children ages 5-8 play for an average of about 40 minutes per day, and children ages 8-12 play for an average of about 80 minutes per day. Some schools are taking advantage of video games’ popularity and including educational video games in their lessons. One school has even developed a whole curriculum based on video game play and design. Despite video games’ popularity and rising use in education, there is still relatively little research on their positive and negative effects on children’s brains.
What did the researchers study?
These researchers gathered data from previously published studies to see if there were trends related to the impact of video game play on children. They then describe recommendations for policies about video game use in education.
What did they find?
The researchers found that video games and apps that were interactive and educational had a positive effect on children’s brain development. However, violent and exclusively entertaining media had a negative effect on child brain development.
One study showed that educational games can help preschoolers learn coding, literacy, and math skills. Another study focused on characters in educational games showed that creating a strong bond with an in-game character can improve the child’s learning. A study that looked at games that involved movement and exercise, called “exergames,” found that the games can help improve children’s decision-making and overall main functions of the brain.
Many studies have looked at the effect that parents can have on children’s learning when watching educational TV shows with them. When parents watch and interact with the content with their child (e.g., by asking questions and praising correct answers), children learn better from the program. As a result of this research, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to watch educational shows with their children. Now, parents are encouraged to play educational video games with their children to help improve their learning.
The majority of the research on video games has been done with young children and adolescents. The authors note that very little is known about the impact of video games during middle childhood (ages 6-12), and they encourage more research to be done.
What should be my take-away?
Overall, research shows that educational video games are useful for children’s brain development and learning. As a parent, you can do the following things to promote your children’s learning while playing video games:
- Encourage your child to play educational video games rather than solely entertaining and/or violent ones.
- Interact with your child during the game. You can play with your child or watch them, and interact by asking questions and praising them if they do something correctly.
- Find games that have relatable characters. If children can form bonds with the characters, they will be able to learn better and develop better social skills.
- Find exercise video games to help your child get some movement while improving their overall brain function.
Blumberg, F. C., Deater‐Deckard, K., Calvert, S. L., Flynn, R. M., Green, C. S., Arnold, D., & Brooks, P. J. (2019). Digital Games as a Context for Childrens Cognitive Development: Research Recommendations and Policy Considerations. Social Policy Report, 32(1), 1-33. doi:10.1002/sop2.3