AsianScientist (Sep. 6, 2016) – If, like me, you’re vaguely alarmed at how much screen time your kids are getting everyday, know this: you are not alone.
Every other day it seems a new headline pops up warning of the potential ills of spending too much time online, with one clinical professor recently labeling screens “digital heroin” and warning how they turn our kids into “psychotic junkies.”
As I type this, my eight-year-old is slouched on his bed, trying to improve his chances of survival in Minecraft by building an underground base. He looks absorbed and content, a kid who’s happy and healthy, and not about to morph into one of the zombie-like creatures that inhabit his online brick world.
But, is that day just round the corner? Why does the line between healthily obsessed and able to exercise self-control, and the junkies who run amok, seem remarkably fine?
It’s enough to make someone want to Ctrl-Alt-Delete their parenting process, and start all over again.
And if I could start over, would I have given him access to a screen this early?
Game on or game over?
When a recent research study from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology found that children who play online video games tend to do better in academic science, maths and reading tests, I could almost hear the collective heaving of sighs in households across the world.
The study analyzed data from over 12,000 high school students in Australia and found that students who played online games almost every day scored 15 points above average in maths and reading tests and 17 points above average in science.
However, as years in science communications have taught me, there’s always some kind of but, disclaimer, or finer detail that will make you stop short of having a “Huzzah!” moment.
In this case, the researchers made sure to point out that the study’s methodology could not prove causation that playing video games caused the improvement. What it did was identify the correlation between academic performance and the participants’ personal interests and activities outside of school, including internet usage.
Other studies looking at video games and academic performance have shown similar results, with participants experiencing no negative nor positive effect associated with complex tasks, reasoning and dexterity. A Columbia University study found that children aged 6 to 11 who were high users of online games, had a greatly increased chance of high intellectual functioning and overall school competence.
However, without being able to unpack what this correlation tangibly signifies, it’s clear that more research is needed to understand how and why kids play video games and how these motivations and behaviors influence other realms of their lives. NEXT PAGE >>>