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Video games offer kids developmental, social benefits

Video games offer kids developmental, social benefits study shows
(ARA) - Fears about video games often grab headlines, but a growing body of research shows that video games can actually be beneficial to your child's development. Kids can learn academics, social interaction and cooperation and even history from video games, a new report shows.

The study, spearheaded by Cheryl K. Olson, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Mental Health and Media in Boston, indicated video game benefits can include:

* Providing an outlet for creativity

* Allowing children and teens to try on roles (from new sports to different personalities or professions) in a safe environment

* Providing practice in planning and recognizing consequences

* Helping manage difficult emotions

* Promoting interest in exercise and sports

* Improving visual/spatial skills

* Nourishing self esteem, pride and socialization skills

So how can parents ensure their children are reaping benefits from game playing, while avoiding possible negatives for their emotional and physical well-being? Experts agree on several points:

Get educated

"One reason parents may be concerned about video games is that they don't  feel comfortable with the controls," says Olson, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "A mom who's not sure whether a comic book or a movie is appropriate for her child can flip or fast-forward through it. If she's worried about a video game, but lacks the skill to play it, she's left frustrated and a bit embarrassed."

Fortunately, parents can find plenty of resources online to help them better understand a particular game and the affect it might have on their child, including:

*, the home page of the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The website allows parents to search for a specific game by title or publisher, learn its ESRB rating and why the board awarded that rating. The ESRB assigns ratings to help parents determine if a game is appropriate for their child.

*, Olson's website with information drawn from her book by the same name. The site explores a variety of issues relating to video games and offers perspective backed by Olson's own research and the work of many others.

Keep an open mind

Research has shown that video games can have many benefits for children, from building eye-hand coordination, to teaching important math, reading and spatial skills, to providing a means of socialization and an outlet for negative feelings. Children play video games for many reasons, Olson's latest research shows. "It's just fun" was the primary reason cited by both boys and girls for playing video games, but other reasons included the challenge of mastering the game, the joy of learning something new, and the desire to relax.

"Parents may worry about the appeal of violent content in games, but our research suggests that children enjoy video games more for the chance to figure out problems, express creativity, compete with friends, and even teach friends how to play," Olson notes. "A game doesn't have to be labeled 'educational' to benefit children. For example, recent games such as Bakugan and the Professor Layton series build problem-solving skills, and sneak in a fair amount of reading."

Establish boundaries

Experts agree that it is a parent's right and responsibility to set boundaries for children and teens, including healthy limits on video game play. As with other media, parents need to choose video games wisely. Parental controls for game consoles and computers help parents restrict what games their children play based on age-based ESRB ratings. They may also consider limiting where their child can play. Moving the video game console out of the teen's or child's room and into a common area of the house keeps parents tuned in to what their child is playing, and makes it harder for a child to choose games over sleep. With games that promote social and interactive play, and encourage fun physical activity, parents might find themselves drawn into their children's games.

"Allowing your child to teach you how to play a video game is a great way to build your relationship and share interests." Olson says. "As with any activity a child is interested in, parental involvement and guidance can help a child get the greatest benefit from it."


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