Features: June 30th, 2017

Computer gaming has become ‘child’s play’. In this article Gill Hayward and Kellie Forbes explore the pros and cons and suggest a balance between computer and natural play.

A whopping 93% of kids aged 7-10 play computer games on a regular basis, with more than a third spending between one and two hours a day playing. As a parent, I’ve sometimes felt quite guilty about giving my son an iPad, even if it does keep him entertained playing an educational app. It feels a bit like lazy parenting and I worry it could be messing with his mind, or he should be reading a book instead.

Dangers of Video Games

Reward Stimulus

Most video games are enjoyable because they constantly reward us for our actions; we collect all of the white dots and are awarded with hundreds of points. The action-reward mechanism also lies behind human learning: we avoid actions that lead to unpleasant experiences while repeating those which have a pleasurable outcome.

Pleasure, in this case, is moderated by the dopamine response. When we pass the level, obtain the star, beat the boss, we gain a little hit of dopamine that registers as pleasure. It’s our brain’s in-built training mechanism, so it’s easy to see how kids can get addicted (and why there’s a battle when you try and take it off them!) While an in-game action could be relatively benign, they could easily be destructive. Picture a game where you are rewarded for punching someone in the face for example.

Fight or Flight

Some studies have shown that violent video games are preferred by many children, especially boys, and contribute to anti-social activity as well as lower competence in key areas of life. These games also tend to trigger our fight-or-flight response, leading to heightened arousal and stress.

In this state we short-cut the frontal lobe of our brain, where all the higher-level thinking goes on, and switch into our more primitive brain. This can make us moody and aggressive – our bodies literally think they’re fighting for survival.

Hopefully most of us aren’t letting our seven-year-olds play graphically violent games, but, surprisingly, studies have shown that the fight-or-flight response can be triggered regardless of content – all a game needs is our emotional buy-in. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not always down with what games are in and could monitor what my kids are playing online a little tighter.

Physical Activity

If kids are playing video games then they’re not out playing with their friends. Not only might this inhibit their social development, but a lack of physical activity has also been blamed for rising child obesity.

However, some studies have shown that playing sports video games actually leads to an increase in real-life sports activity. If kids gain confidence through a video game they are more likely to try it in real life. That’s the current theory anyway.

So, perhaps video games can actually have a positive effect…

Benefits of Video Games

Cognitive Skills

While games do use reward stimulus, this actually helps kids develop some advanced cognitive skills. Virtually every video game requires players to follow instructions, strategize, and problem-solve in order to gain the reward.

Certain types of games are better at developing different skills, depending on the gameplay. Simulation games, for example, require management of resources, mapping, strategy and quick thinking. In-game money requires players to do maths to see if they can afford items or unlocks. Mysteries and RPGs require perspective-taking. And so on.

Arguably, the reward stimulus mechanism is much more effective at teaching children cognitive skills than rote learning. Video games also combine these skills in a situation that is designed to mimic real-life, making the learning feel far more relevant than learning abstract times-tables.

Hand-Eye Coordination

From the simplest games to the most complex, video games require some degree of hand-eye coordination. Yes, it’s coordination on a 2D plane, but these are likely the skills that our kids will need when they grow up, and in the future their work will be in the realms of computers, so getting kids used to using screens is good preparation for later life.

Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but some futurologists have predicted that a lot of work currently done by hand will be controlled by computers with input from humans. Picture the operating theatre of the future where your child conducts an intricate surgical operation using an iPad connected to a robotic arm. Video games could be the best training we could be giving them.

Social Connection

Just because kids aren’t going out to play with their friends doesn’t mean they aren’t being social. Many new games are online multiplayer games (MMOs) which connect players from around the world. They must work together to accomplish a specific goal, teaching social skills as well as sharing, planning and individual strengths.

For children that find social situations challenging, these MMO games are the perfect opportunity to gain some social experience, build confidence and make friends. It’s okay to get things wrong, to fall out with online friends, because you can log in and find new ones fairly simply. Socially awkward children can then test new ways of behaving and communicating that they can transfer to the real world – just remember to be aware of who they are talking with online.

Finding A Balance

So, should I feel bad about handing my son the iPad when he’s bored and I’m busy?
Probably not, as long as video game play is balanced out with some real-world interaction.

Physical activities will help him enjoy the outdoors and value nature, not to mention warding off obesity and related diseases. Real-world games, such as board games and cards, can be just as effective at teaching developmental skills as video games, too. Plus, there is the immediate, face-to-face social element – he learns to read my reactions and incorporate that information into his strategy for winning.

It was actually the desire for better balance that led us to develop the YUU backpack. It has a space designed to fit a tablet or laptop, but it also has a fold-out playing table for board games. It won’t force kids to put down the iPad, but just having the fold-out games surface means they want to use it – sometimes the old-fashioned games are the best! It also combines tech play with active play, as the YUUgo model comes with a supporting app, so children can learn all about the distances they’ve travelled and set challenges, the parent app can set ring fencing alerts and track the bag’s location. The aim was to increase children’s independence and confidence, while giving parents that all important piece of mind.

Whether they’re playing video games, board games or running around the park, we can keep track of them and help maintain that important balance of play.

I won’t pretend it’s easy – even the best laid plans often go awry. But I can’t help but think that balancing video games with real-life play is one of the most important challenges that we as parents face. Without any video gaming, our kids will grow up maladapted to the time they live in. Too much and we risk scrambling their brain, potentially leading to a myriad of mental health problems.


YUU was founded in 2010 by Gill Hayward and Kellie Forbes with the launch of the first range of kid’s activity backpacks offering an exciting, durable and portable solution to providing entertainment for children on-the-go in a caring, protective way.

Since then, YUUbags have been a storming success with sales exceeding 75,000 YUUbags from the website alone. YUUbags are also sold internationally in Australia & NZ, Russia, Benelux and Scandinavia.

In 2012, YUU appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2012 and secured investment from Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden following a highly successful pitch which left all 5 Dragons wanting to invest.

The YUUgo is aimed at children aged 7-12 years.

Visit www.yuuworld.com for more information.


The Positive and Negative Effects of Video Games