Few topics worry parents more than computer and video games. As their children hunch in front of their computers, safety is a concern for parents. In addition, parents wonder: Are their children playing too many computer games? Watching screens too long? Rotting their brains as they maneuver miniature cartoons and objects with remote controls? How does all of this screen-time affect kids' learning after school and classroom learning?
Actually, a moderate serving of video or computer games can be beneficial to your kids after school, as long as the games have the right ingredients. The growing numbers of educational games offered on the market today allow children to learn everything from math to nutrition on a TV or computer screen.
"There's been a far reaching interest in the development of games, especially for teaching and training," says Dr. Brian McGerco, assistant professor of educational gaming at Michigan State University. Television shows and movies are not interactive; the child just sits passively and watches. But "interactivity is really the hook of using games."
So why not use the games to kids' benefit?
"Games obviously are very popular media now," McGerco says. "And if you can make something that's fun have some social message or learning component in it, then all the better."
Of course, even providing your kids with the most educational of electronic games still means it's time they'll be spending sedentary in front of a TV or computer screen. Unless it's an educational workout by Dance Dance Revolution, you'll want to stick to the basic rules for time limits.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents limit the time children watch television or play video games to no more than two hours per day. Instead, encourage them to enjoy fun activities with family members or on their own that simply involve more activity (walking, playing tag, dancing).
Children should be physically active most, if not all, days of the week, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Experts suggest at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily for most children. Walking fast, bicycling, jumping rope, dancing fast, and playing basketball are all good ways for your child to be active.
Keep TVs and computers out of kids' bedrooms, the NIH recommends, and don't use video games to reward or punish a child. Make sure your kids know why a healthy balance between games and other activities is important, and don't forget to set a good example with your own TV time. For a sample family screen time log, search for "screen time log" at the NIH Web site.
Jessica Schrader is a freelance writer from Royal Oak, Michigan.