Last Updated on January 21, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin
What are the pros and cons of video games? Can these games our kids want to play ever be good for them?
(Links on this page may be affiliate links. If you purchase through a link, we may earn a commission. Dislaimer Here)
As parents of nine kids, my husband and I have certainly had many conversations about video games over the years. Our oldest son was 5 years old when my brother asked if he could give him a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. This was when the Nintendo Wii was the hottest item for Christmas and people would stand in line for hours to get this gaming system. Ian was our oldest son and it seemed like a generous gift from my brother and his wife, so we said yes.
Well our son quickly became enthralled with all the games. Over the years, more and more tech was added to our house and he was always a few steps ahead of us figuring out how to navigate all the devices and over ride any parental controls we put in place. We felt like we were always trying to catch up.
All we knew is that video games and too much screen time could be bad in many ways, and we didn’t want that for him! He always managed to play more than we wanted.
Would we ruin him by letting him play video games?
How much was too much?
Fast forward and that son is now 21 and a senior in college. He has paid his way through school and works full time at an architecture firm and will graduate with a Computer Programming degree in a few months. He also has a girlfriend and is a great big brother to his younger siblings. He has loved screens and been an AVID gamer since he was 5 years old…and they haven’t ruined him! He enjoys video games but he’s also a responsible adult.
We have six boys and three girls and frankly all of them enjoy video games. We have seen many benefits to them playing and of course there are some negatives too.
As with anything, there is a balance that needs to be found, but I want to assure you that letting your kids play video games won’t necessarily ruin them.
I thought I’d share what has worked for our family to make video games a positive experience in hopes that it can benefit yours as well.
So as we talk about video games, let’s look at the pros and cons of video games so that we can enjoy this form of entertainment without all of the potential negatives.
Table of Contents
The Key to Balance With Video Games
When I flip through online forums or read stories in the news about video game addiction, I know that video game addiction can be a very real problem. As parents, we have used several strategies to keep video games a positive experience in our house. These are our guidelines. While your guidelines may be different, having them is a helpful way to create positive conversation with your kids.
1. We talk about the importance of what we look at. This applies to everything….not just video games.
2. We don’t play 1st person shooter games where people are the targets.
3. We don’t play horror video games or sexualized games.
4. Video game time is limited if needed. We can shut down the internet to devices through the router.
5. Video games are a privilege. If a child isn’t doing their school work or chores, video game privileges are lost.
6. Video games can and should be used to discuss worldview, culture, life choices and values.
7. We require that our minor kids only play video games with people they know in real life…no playing with strangers.
In Proverbs is says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” As we talk about all kinds of entertainment, we use that verse to talk about the things that we are putting before our eyes and storing in our hearts. Our kids don’t always appreciate our perspective, but over time, it has helped them make better choices to understand that their decisions about entertainment matter more than they realize.
15 Pros of Video Games
As we consider the positive effects of video games, it is important to note that most of these benefits happen when video games are played in moderation. Playing video games can be a great way to enjoy social activity without face to face interaction.
Video games are a great source of entertainment. It’s easy and frankly that makes it great. As parents we are busy sometimes and our kids need downtime. Video games can be an easy in-house option that doesn’t require us to do a lot of running around.
Video games can help kids work on skills like hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking, and problem solving. Some of the games that are the most fun involve collecting resources for working together with others to win the game.
This takes me back to one of the earliest video games I ever played the Oregon trail. Of course, if you weren’t successful you might die from dysentery or freeze to death, but the lessons learned in that game were ones that really took you back and helped you think about how life would have been historically and the kinds of problems they would have had to solve.
Some studies suggest that playing video games can enhance memory, attention, and cognitive abilities.
Social interaction can be one of the strongest benefits of video games. In our house we generally discourage solo playing of video games. I love to see my kids all piled on the couch playing Mario kart together. And frankly, it’s hilarious to hear my husband and kids chattering through the house about collecting enough gold or being the mayonnaise queen because that’s a resource in a game.
I love it when they play games together because yes, it builds you know social report but it also builds shared memories that they can laugh about later. Sometimes I feel a little bit out of the conversation at the dinner table because their chattering about what’s happening in their game, but the point is they’re talking to each other about something they’re doing together, which is awesome.
Many parents require that their kids get their homework done before they play video games, but in our house I often let my kids play video games before they get their school work done simply because they’ve been at school all day. Now of course when they were home schooled getting their school work done was completely reasonable because it happened in the morning they would get up get their school work done and they have the rest of their day.
Some games allow players to bring their own creative ability to the table. One of the things that kids love about Minecraft is the ability to make their own design elements to include in the game. Besides creating things in the game, they can host their own worlds on their own servers which allows them to develop more technical creative skills.
It’s true that some kids who love these games will go on to become game designers. If you ask a classroom full of 10-year-old boys what they want to be when they grow up, many of them will say they want to play for the NBA or for another sports team. Of course a low percentage will actually go on to do that. Video game design is kind of like that.. a small percentage of kids will actually go on to make video games their career.
But playing and troubleshooting video games can develop confidence with technology that leads to careers in computer programming (my son!), networking, graphic design, software engineer and more.
Like it or not, gaming is part of our culture in the 21st century. And as parents, we can use our kids interest in different games as a ways to discuss the culture using a topic they are interested in.
I grew up without a television which was a good thing for the most part. However, to this day, there are are many cultural references from my childhood that I don’t understand because we rarely watched television. Responsible access to video games can be part of a cultural education that is woven into other areas of life.
Many video games require players to solve puzzles or navigate complex situations, enhancing problem-solving abilities.
Video games are a great way to develop and improve technologic proficiency. Some of this happens by default. If something breaks in your game, you have to be kind of motivated to fix it. Fixing technology requires persistence and kids are very persistent when it comes to their video games. I’ve seen my kids spend a lot of time watching videos or trying out different configurations just to make their computers and devices work correctly.
Again. Let’s not underestimate those important problems solving and technology skills.
Some educational video games are designed to teach specific subjects or skills in an interactive and engaging way.
At the younger grades there are some great video games to teach, reading and math and sometimes other subjects. Kids love these games because they think they’re being entertained and parents love them. Because they know their kids are learning.
One of our favorite learning platforms is reading eggs. It offers a variety of gamified learning that young children love. They can also earn tokens to buy things in the game that make it even more fun and incentivize them to keep trying.
While video games are not normally the best way to get some physical exercise, there are games designed to you up. Remember “Dance Dance Revolution?” That along with other physical movement games can gameify exercise and make it more appealing!
Teamwork and collaboration
Multiplayer games encourage teamwork, cooperation, and communication among players.
Some of my boys are very close in age and have definitely had seasons of fighting and bickering. One of my strategies is a parent is to remove their devices but let them play video games together on a single device. So I might remove their computers and say okay. You can only play games on the switch together. Suddenly these brothers that were fighting tooth and now are laughing together in the living room on the couch as they work together to destroy the bad guy.
Video games can evoke a range of emotions, including joy, excitement, and accomplishment.
Obviously we all want our kids to experience the joys of real life. But sometimes when things are hard or they’re having a bad day, video games can be just the thing. The easy thing to get them smiling and thinking positively again.
Video games provide an escape from reality and can be a form of relaxation or temporary distraction. Of course, this can also be a negative if someone is “escaping” from reality all the time.
I don’t want our kids to be escaping reality for days on end. But we all need times where we kind of check out and don’t have the responsibilities weighing on us so heavily.
Parents often do this other ways. I found myself escaping to my room so I could watch a Netflix video or read a book. I feel like I am in my own little world for an hour or two even though I’ve got a hospital of kids.
I think our kids need that ability to tune out all the craziness sometimes too.
12 Cons of Video Games
Playing video games in excess can lead to many potential drawbacks. Whether you are concerned about violent games and aggressive behavior or just the lack of physical activity, having boundaries can prevent many of negative effects of video games.
Excessive gaming can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which may contribute to health issues such as obesity or musculoskeletal problems.
Some individuals may develop a gaming addiction, leading to neglect of responsibilities and negative impacts on mental health. The World Health Organization defines video game addiction as “a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Playing video games can consume a significant amount of time, potentially affecting productivity in other areas of life. Some students have difficulty prioritizing school work, chores or physical activities over playing games leading to more problems in the real world.
Violence and aggression: Certain video games with violent content may contribute to increased aggression or desensitization to violence. A study done on the effects of violent video games on adolescents, found that exposure “to violent video games is positively related to adolescent aggression.”
Excessive gaming can lead to social isolation if it replaces real-life social interactions. Of course this is true for people of all ages. We have combatted this problem in our family by creating an environment where our kids play with their siblings and my husband…or where they play with actual friends online and talk as they play.
Any kind of sedentary activity can have potential health risks. Staring at screens may lead to eye strain, headaches, or difficulty sleeping. And sitting for too long can zap your energy, make you sluggish and lead to feeling stiff. This can be avoided by taking breaks while gaming or limiting the amount of screentime in general. Sometimes our boys play quite a bit on the weekend. But I “help” them break up this time by mixing in chores, family activities and limiting the amount they can play at one time.
Video games and gaming consoles can be expensive, especially when considering additional downloadable content or online subscriptions.
Our teens get jobs at 14 and it’s pretty common for them to spend a bit initially on new gaming consoles or accessories. However, we also require our teens to pay for many of their own things, so all of their new money is cannot be spent on frivolous things.
Recently, my 15 year old wanted to buy a new Oculus. It was EXPENSIVE. So we required that he transfer an equal amount into his investment account before he bought the new gaming system to simple protect him from his own spending habits. There are many ways to create natural limits to prevent overspending, and teaching limits is a valuable life skill that we all need to learn!
Online safety concerns
Interacting with strangers in online gaming environments carries the risk of encountering inappropriate content or online predators.
In our family, we have addressed this issue by controlling devices through our router and by establishing gaming habits and rules where we require that they only play games with people they know in real life. This not only helps prevent online dangers, but it also facilitates better social connections. When they are playing with real life friends, they will often talk about those games when they see the friends in real life.
Spending excessive time on gaming can negatively impact academic performance if it interferes with studying or homework completion. I mean, let’s be honest…playing video games IS more fun than math or grammar!
When academic performance begins to suffer, that is a great time to teach limitations and to set up new habits that support academics AND still allow them to play the games that they enjoy. Our current 13 year old son struggles with this exact problem. So we have several layers of “limits” to help him get his work done. We also recognize that perfect academic performance is not always a great goal for every kid. So creating reasonable limits is helpful…but extreme limits can create resentment.
Time management skills are essential for adult success. Because kids and teens WANT to play video games, this can be the perfect avenue to teach time management (instead of the possibility of losing video game privileges.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines on healthy internet usage. They recommend that children over the age of six play no more than 1 to 2 hours a day depending on whether it is a school day or the weekend.
Video games can be a distraction from other important tasks or responsibilities, leading to decreased focus and productivity. In extreme cases, we see adults who can’t hold down a job or pay their bills because they are so distracted by gaming.
Of course, this level of distraction can be minimized when our kids and teens live at home if we learn how to limit gaming access and teach responsible time management. In our home, if our kids are too distracted to get their responsibilities done, then they will lose their device(s) for a period of time to encourage them to make better choices next time.
Late-night gaming sessions can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to sleep deprivation. There is no doubt that unfettered access to gaming devices can lead to sleep deprivation if they don’t have self- control or if limits are not in place.
When our oldest son and daughter were our first teens, they sometime like to try gaming through the night. We didn’t know about using the router to control the internet. But we didn’t want them on the internet. All of our computers were desktops, so we would physically remove the power cord at night! Now it’s a family joke about how the kids would hide power cords so they could get on computers at night!
In general, this is rarely a problem at our house…even with 5 teens, because we use the router to shut down most computers…and everyone…including my 21 year old son crashes out by around 10 or 10:30.
Exposure to Sexual Content
Some video games have content that is sexualized. This is not always obvious when you buy. In addition, some gaming sites are basically advertising sites for pornography.
Oftentimes busy parents are not aware of the hidden content on these games and sites. It is important to check reviews for games and gaming sites before allowing your kids and teens to play games that you are unfamiliar with.
In our house, my oldest son is an avid gamer and works and studies in the tech field. Before we let the other kids buy games, we have him check out the games and give the thumbs up or down based on what he finds out.
Risk of piracy or hacking
Online gaming platforms may be vulnerable to piracy or hacking attempts, compromising user data or financial information. Not all platforms are risky but some are. It is important to do your due diligence on individual gaming sites and educate your kids and teens about the risks online.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Video Games
Parents who want to find a positive balance with video games must actively engage with their kids. Gaming should not be a passive activity that we let our kids do without oversite. Ever family is going to have different needs and challenges they are navigating.
With a great deal of intention, gaming can be a positive activity our kids do and enjoy. It is a form of entertainment but it can also support life skills if done carefully and in moderation.
Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!