So much of the discussion of school comes down to video games. Especially for boys. And here’s why: in most cases, if you tell boys they can spend their time doing whatever they want, and they can learn whatever is interesting to them, they will learn a lot about video games.
It’s difficult for most parents to allow their kids to play video games for hours and hours every day. I know, so I spend a lot of time reading about the effects of video games to understand the dilemma. And the first thing I’ll tell you is that research based on “screen time,” which includes television, concludes that it’s detrimental to kids in large doses. Research specific to video games shows largely positive effects from high engagement.
The core difference is passive vs. active engagement. When a kid is zoned out in front of a TV, there is no problem-solving or strategizing. That’s not true for a video game. A kid who is completely absorbed in a video game and can’t hear a word his mom says is actually exhibiting the behavior psychologists like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi call flow—which is the highest form of learning because it’s such engaged attention toward mastery of a skill that you don’t notice anything around you.
The American Medical Association recommends limited screen time because of the passive nature of watching TV, but ironically school is passive, like TV, and harmful to kids for all the same reasons that screen time is passive and harmful.
Video games are not passive. I come across research all the time explaining why unlimited video game time makes for healthy kids in the same way that unlimited baseball practice does for a kid who loves baseball. A kid stops naturally when he is exhausted from exerting effort.
I have to tell this to myself every day when I hear the boys screaming about their video games from the room next to me.
And, recently, I’ve found a bunch of research that shows that gamers are happier and more successful as adults. This is what will get me through my doubt for this week:
Gamers do better in jobs that are active.
For the types of jobs that require hand-eye coordination, gamers are not only better at doing the job, but continuing to play the games a little bit each week keeps these professionals sharp at work. We have known about this research for a while from the military, but a study from Iowa State University shows that even surgeons perform better when they regularly play video games.
Gamers are better at jobs that are intellectual.
In the future, thinking type jobs will be largely about data gathering, analysis, and collaboration. So kids need to learn data gathering early. If you tell a kid to do research online for a paper they are writing for school, the kid is not doing self-directed research. They are finding something because they were told to. Gamers constantly gather information online about the game to be better players. The data collection and synthesis skills are much stronger for someone obsessed with a topic, because they are driven to find more and more specialized information.
In the workplace right now, the gap between the value of a younger person and an older person often rests in their differing abilities to search for information online. In ten years the search and synthesis skills one will need in order to be a high performer at work will be much higher than they are today. This is okay, because kids brains fundamentally change when they are online searching and taking in information all day in odd bits and chunks. If you don’t allow your kids’ brain to develop this way, they eventually will have an outdated way of problem solving.
Gamers are happier over the long run.
ScienceDirect re-published a study that shows that gamers report a higher sense of wellbeing than non-gamers as they age. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that gaming is social and gives people a sense of belonging to a community. Which means that the long-term benefits of spending a lot of time on video games are similar to the long-term benefits of spending a lot of time at church.