May 5, 2023, 3:40:24 PM CDT Oct 18, 2023, 12:11:52 PM CDT

Healthy gaming habits for kids and teens

8 tips to help your child develop positive video game use

Father and son playing video games Father and son playing video games

If your kids regularly beg you to play "just five more minutes" of their favorite video game, they're not alone. In fact, 71% of kids aged 2 to 17 play video games. You may be wondering if video games are healthy for kids. Jaeon Abraham, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Health℠, shares tips to help kids and teens adopt healthy habits to keep gaming safe and fun.

Are video games healthy for children?

Video games can be healthy for kids and teens. The key is to ensure they enjoy them in moderation.

Some positive effects of gaming include:

  • Connecting with friends online
  • Practicing their problem-solving skills
  • Giving kids a sense of accomplishment when they beat a level or game
  • Helping them manage stress with a break from day-to-day worries

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that compared to kids their age who don't play video games, 9- and 10-year-old kids who regularly play video games have better cognitive performance when it comes to response inhibition (ability to suppress actions that are inappropriate in certain situations) and working memory. The researchers explain that these findings are consistent with videogaming altering these areas of the brain.

Keep gaming healthy for kids

You may still be concerned about ensuring your kids play games within reasonable limits. Here are some great ways to keep gaming healthy for children and teens.

1. Choose healthy gaming snacks

Many gamers enjoy munching away while they conquer the latest game. This might be especially true if the only thing your kids want to do is game. Keep healthy snack options on hand for gaming time so your kids don't reach for the bag of chips and a bottle of soda.

Stock your pantry and refrigerator with smart grab-and-go options, such as:

  • Apples
  • Baby carrots
  • Bananas
  • Low-sugar granola bars
  • Nuts
  • Small bags of lightly buttered popcorn
  • String cheese

2. Get involved

If you enjoy gaming, play with your kids. This way, you'll know what's going on in the games they're playing, and you can also keep an eye on online players. Plus, it's a great way to bond with your kids over a shared interest.

3. Keep it social

Even if your child is playing a video game alone, we recommend they do so in a shared space in the home. Holing up in their room alone gaming is a surefire way to play many more hours than they should. When your kid games in a common area – like the living room or den – you can keep a closer eye on what they’re playing and with whom.

4. Know your kids’ gaming buddies

For younger kids especially, we recommend kids only play with friends from the "real world." For older kids, allow them to game with people online as you feel is appropriate for their maturity level. Make sure they're mature enough to understand what is and isn't appropriate online behavior, including cyberbullying and not sharing personal information.

"Look into parental controls and whether disabling in-game chatting makes sense for your child," Dr. Abraham says. "Kids should be aware of how to mute other players who may be using profanity or being inappropriate." More importantly, make sure your kids know to shut the game down if things go sideways and alert you immediately.

5. No bedroom gaming

Keep video games and all other screens out of your kids' bedrooms. If your kids can't resist screens in their rooms, remove them at least one hour before bedtime each evening. Never leave screens with your child after bedtime, as the temptation to play a game or watch a show can be strong.

6. Preview new games

Test new games and consider reading parent reviews before your kid plays them to ensure age-appropriateness. Dr. Abraham suggests checking out an online resource like Common Sense Media to help you determine whether a game is safe and appropriate for your child.

7. Set the timer and take breaks

Set daily and weekly time limits around gaming – and stick with them. Kids need to have clear expectations around how much they're allowed to game and when it's time to switch to a different activity. When gaming, encourage your kids to get up, stretch, and walk around. Taking a break from video games gives their eyes a needed blue-light break.

8. Mix it up and play a variety of games

Beyond video games, get your family involved in weekly game nights – from classic board games to family card games, there's sure to be another kind of game that your family will enjoy together. This will also give your kids a break from screens.

How much gaming is OK for kids?

Aim to treat your child's gaming like any other extra-curricular activity, making sure that time spent videogaming is balanced with other activities — like playing outside or reading a book. We recommend following the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) screen time limits for video games:

  • One hour per day for children aged 2 to 12
  • Two hours per day for teens

We understand there are times when screen times might be higher – such as during breaks from school or over the summer. Make a point to set realistic limits with your kids and ensure they know your limitations and expectations. Create "screen-free zones" in your home, starting with family dinnertime. When everyone knows and follows healthy gaming rules, playing age-appropriate video games can be a fun, safe and constructive pastime for kids of all ages.

Extra Life – Play games. Heal kids.

Join gamers in North Texas who game and raise funds for Children's Health through Extra Life. If you sign up be sure to choose to support Children's Health, the local Children's Miracle Network Hospital.

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