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Is It OK to Let Your Toddler Play Video Games? [It Depends]

by Screen Time Team on 05/05/2021

Overview: Science is increasingly showing that it’s fine if toddlers play video games. However, there are caveats: parents need to play along, and the video games must be age-appropriate.

Are Video Games Good For Kids?

The debate about screen time and video games is never-ending, both in culture in general and in families. However, new science is emerging about games and their benefits and drawbacks, and it may take some families by surprise.

First of all, we should note that the main concern for doctors around video games isn’t the effect on young minds, but the effect on young bodies. Doctors want kids, especially young kids, to be more active, something that screen time doesn’t necessarily encourage, and which may help with cognitive development as well. You’ll often find screens lumped in with too much time in strollers as something doctors will recommend against.

That said, the most recent study, from the University of California-Santa Cruz’s Infant Development Lab, found that there was no difference in mental flexibility between kids who played games, ran around, or made art projects. They were all able to sort objects correctly by shape and then color.

The study’s author warned, however, that this was only an exploratory study and wasn’t signing off on the iPad as a digital babysitter. Instead, the findings pointed towards kids and parents playing games together as beneficial, as it helps develop social and cognitive skills and family bonding.

Playing Together For A Set Amount Of Time

So, screen time with games families can play together make the most sense. And there are several age-appropriate options, including online massively multiplayer games, that families can use. Yet there should also be ground rules.

  • Play games before kids use them to get a sense of whether the game includes in-app purchases or has problematic content.
  • Ensure kids have a mix of activities to get into at any given time to both broaden their experiences and limit screen time.
  • Look at a game’s rating and permissions, especially games on mobile app stores. Some games may gather information you’re not comfortable sharing.
  • Stick to set rules and schedules to the extent possible. No toddler is a machine, so keep boundaries broad, like no games after dinner or before breakfast.
  • Choose games that kids can play alone occasionally, as well; there’s no shame in needing five minutes to do a chore or take a breath.
  • Set up parental control software to limit the amount of time a game is played.
  • Disable chat and messaging functions, or set them to private, and monitor any chat logs or inboxes involved in the game.
  • Keep tablets and gaming systems away from bedrooms, dining rooms, and playspaces in the house.
  • On family trips and outings, leave gaming systems behind if at all possible, and keep games off your phone.
  • Talk to kids about gaming and when it’s appropriate to play. They should also know to come to you whenever they’re made to feel uncomfortable by another player.

Parental control software like Screen Time can help families play together with fewer tears and timeouts. Contact us to learn more about Screen Time and what it can do for your family, or try it for free!

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