How Young is Too Young For Kids and Videogames?
Here’s a fun topic to talk about, and for once, doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity or U2!
Wired’s Geek Dad has an article up asking Videogames and Kids: How Young is Too Young? The article starts off with the story of a young boy who’s parents won’t allow him to play videogames; no harm there, that’s the parents choice, but the article also wisely states that sooner or later that’s gonna crack, as all well-intentioned parenting laws tend to do. Then he throws out an interesting statistic:
I’m no expert, but I’ve been reading up on some of the research. For one, the trend is that each year, younger and younger kids are experiencing screen time. This article references a study saying that since 2005, “the average age that U.S. youngsters started to use electronic gadgets had fallen from just over 8 to just over 6 1/2.” Educational psychologist and author Jane Healy recently wrote: “My position is that children are better off without computers before the age of 7. By age 7, their brains have undergone a great deal of maturation and the basics should be in there. They can start to expand the type of thinking they can do so they can actually start to get something worthwhile using good software, for example, good simulation programs.”
To my mind, the issue goes beyond the debatable ill-effects of videogame violence — which I debunk in this op-ed, suggesting that videogame violence can be a good thing. To me, the issue isn’t about fears that games instill violent behavior, but rather that videogames are usurping the power of more conventional toys. There may be merits to shielding boys and girls like Jack from their digital futures, at least temporarily, if kids can first learn to amuse themselves without automatically reaching for a game controller. The truck, the toy sword, the soccer ball, the sandbox, the board game, the pad of paper, the book: All can be as magical and entrancing as anything a game studio can cook up. Perhaps this is the rule of thumb: Once a love of nondigital play is instilled in young minds and habits, then let kids run free through the wild world of pixels.
Fascinating. To reach deep into my memory, I think the first time I played a videogame, any videogame…had to be around age 4 or 5. Probably 5 or 6. But somewhere between 1989-1991. In 1991, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo and Super Mario World, and I distinctly remember that coming out and playing it in Kmart. in 1990, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros 3, and I remember seeing TV commercials for it at a babysitter’s house, and I knew it was Mario, so I must have been exposed to Super Mario Bros. at some point prior to that. I know also around this time my dad brought me to the college he worked for at the time and I got to play such classics as Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago, not to mention the classic version of Wheel of Fortune, plus sometime in 1991 or so we got our first computer at home, where I played some of the DOS games that dad brought home from work, such as Labyrinth, some racing game, Othello, and EGA Trek. Heck, I remember DOS more than I remember those games.
But then, sometime in that same time frame after 1989, I bought my Nintendo GameBoy…and we all know my love affair with that handheld.
So I must have been exposed to videogames around the age of 5. Technically that must be scarily young according to the statistics, but I’d argue it wasn’t so bad back then. The majority of games I played were intellectual and educational in design, such as Carmen Sandiago or Wheel of Fortune. I even played those (technically illegal) Bible based games like The Exodus. Sure I played my fair share of Mario, Kirby, Zelda, whatever, but there was a lot more diversity back then. Plus you had to logically program whatever you were doing in DOS, so I learned a skill that is sadly nonexistent anymore. But was awesome to have for a number of years.
But this article gets me thinking. At what age will I expose my children to videogames? Ideally…probably the same age I was exposed, and hopefully to the same things I was exposed to. But I just don’t know. I have no idea what the state of videogames will be like when I have children and they are the appropriate age. I’d like to say that I’m saving my childhood for my children to experience, but that “non-hoarder” bug has been biting me and I’m slowly getting rid of everything I’ve saved. I’d like my children to have a decent videogame education, starting with things like Tetris and Mario before building more complex skills.
What I do know is that, as much as I can help it, videogames will have a role in my children’s lives. I don’t think they are evil, but in fact are highly developed tools that can help train the imagination as well as dexterity. I think a kids life will be a lot poorer without videogames, and they may go on a crazy binge later in life making up for lost time. All things in moderation. Those kids I know who don’t have access to videogames have no idea what they are missing, but you can see the eagerness in their eyes if they find out you have a GameBoy or Nintendo DS tucked away in your backpack or whatever. The inate desire is there, and it’s not a bad one.
I do know this. I was never overweight when I was playing videogames growing up. I was extremely active, heavily involved in sports, ran everywhere, was actually in a gymnastics class, everything. I had a variety of interests that I enjoyed, including videogames. It wasn’t until I was able to read better that I started gaining weight, because then I spend so much more time reading than doing anything else. Just read, go eat a meal, read, go eat a dessert, and read some more.
So the moral of the story is, books make you fat.