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Plug in and drop out: are computer games damaging children?

Nathalia Gjersoe and Natalia Kucirkova are lead educators on The Open University’s free online course, “Childhood in the Digital Age.” Here, they discuss whether there’s any evidence that suggests computer games are damaging children and invite you to take a quiz about your own attitudes towards technology in young people’s lives.

A child using an iPad
A child using an iPad © Sami Sert/iStock

In his recent book, “Man (Dis)connected,” Professor Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University claims that computer games and internet pornography are leaving boys bored in school, disinterested in human contact and opting out of society.

These claims echo regular, alarming headlines in the media. The rise of digital technology in children’s lives has been associated with higher rates of ADHD, autism, loneliness and obesity.

Do you think computer games are dangerous for children?

Based on your own experiences and those of the children in your life, answer the following set of questions and see how your views compare to other FutureLearners:

Perhaps you found simply answering “yes” or “no” to each question was difficult. You might have different responses when thinking about different people, how much time they spend playing and the sort of games they play. These complexities are often ignored in the media coverage and sometimes even in the academic research.

There are some findings to suggest damaging effects of excessive computer game playing. For instance, in his book, Zimbardo presents evidence that boys’ brains, in particular, “are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal – leaving them out of sync in romantic relationships and traditional classes.”

All things in moderation

However, much of this research focuses on children who play computer games more than 3-5 hours a day.

In the UK, more than 80% of boys and also girls play some form of computer game every day. Dr Andrew Przybylski and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute surveyed nearly 5,000 British boys and girls aged 10-15 years.

They found that, compared to children who played no computer games at all, those who played for around an hour a day:

  • had higher levels of sociability;
  • were more satisfied with their lives;
  • had fewer friendship and emotional problems;
  • and were less hyperactive.

Overall, research findings in this area show that moderate time spent playing computer games is a positive experience for most young people socially and academically.

Excessive use (as with all excesses) can be detrimental. This reflects a tiny percentage of computer game players, but it is often the negative research findings based on extreme usage that are most widely published in the media.

Examine the evidence

To find out more, join our free online course, “Childhood in the Digital Age.”

It examines the evidence for the different sides of the debate around children’s use of digital technology and explores how we can maximise digital opportunities while protecting children from the risks.

What do you think? Are you a technology optimist or pessimist? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation using #FLdigitalkid15.

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