What You'll Discover

  • Risks and Benefits of Gaming on Kids' Mental Health
  • How to Talk with Your Child About Gaming
  • When You Should Be Concerned

From games designed for apps and websites to classic videogame systems, there are now games that are fun and appealing for almost all ages, from toddlers to teens.

How does all this gaming impact children’s mental health and development?

The risk and benefits depend on the type of game, how it's used, and on the individual.

Risks and Benefits of Gaming on Kids’ Mental Health

Most people who have played a fun game can understand how appealing it is, especially to kids. As games have become more complex, they can create a sense of urgency to make it to the next level, to solve the next problem... or to just do a little bit more.

The age and maturity of a child can have a big impact on the risks and benefits, so realize that deciding what games are appropriate is highly individual. Download our plan to help you think through what makes sense.

All video games contain a rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to help you understand a game's intended audience and appropriateness. Caregivers can also check out the interactive tool from common sense media which allows you to enter a child's age, gaming system, and limits on particular content in games (including violence or sexual content) to see if a game would be appropriate for their child (an account is required).

Risks of Gaming

  • Children play less outside than ever. Screen time, including time spent playing games, may contribute to keeping kids indoors or moving their bodies less. And we know that time spent outside and physical movement improves mental well-being.
  • Violent videogames may increase aggression and decrease empathy, especially in kids and teens who play for many hours. Aggressive video game playing has also been associated with increased aggression in children's friends. Even if your child doesn't necessarily play violent video games but their friends do, caregivers may see some increased aggression in their child.
  • According to research, children who spend a lot of time gaming develop fewer relationships with their peers.

Keep in mind that each kid is different and how they use video games is also different. "Too many hours" can be different for different kids. What is important is that we monitor and keep track of mood and behavior changes as caregivers.

Benefits of Gaming

  • Online gaming may help children find a community where they feel like they belong, which is a protective factor that helps mental health. Positive relationships with peers can help boost kids’ self-esteem and happiness levels and may lower the risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Playing cooperative (where two or more players are working together towards a common goal) or action-adventure video games may help children develop impulse control and problem-solving abilities.
  • Based on research, there are some games that may improve fine-motor coordination, reaction times and persistence.

Research into the impact of video games and online gaming on children is being published all the time. New games and platforms are coming out faster than ever! Caregivers play an important role in monitoring and setting limits on games.

Talking to Kids About Gaming

Having a conversation about online and video games is a good place to start. Use the acronym GAME to help you get started:

G - Get a realistic idea of your own screen/game time

Before talking with a child in your life, consider how much time you spend on screens (gaming, social media, watching shows, etc.). Children often model the behavior of adults they are around, including types of games played and how much time is spent on them. How important is screen/game time to you? Why? How do you feel like your habits are impacting your mental health?

A – Ask questions

This will help you connect with your child and understand them better. It also gives you a better sense of how games are impacting their mental health and behavior. Ask your child questions like:

  • What games do you like to play? Why?
  • Who do you connect with while you’re playing those games?
  • What are you learning from the games you like to play?

M – Monitor their gaming

Young children may not realize how much time they are spending on games. Kids of all ages may not be aware of who all is in the game with them or that they shouldn’t share personal details with people online. As a caregiver, consider:

  • Is this impacting their schoolwork, friendships or health?
  • Have you noticed any changes in their behavior, things like increased irritability, anger or avoiding friends, during or after playing certain games? These changes may mean talking more about those reactions.

E – Establish limits

Kids thrive on limits, though they won’t often ask you for them. Download the Family Gaming Plan and work together to fill it out.

  • What kinds of games do you embrace as a family?
  • How much time are you willing to spend on gaming?
  • Who are the people you can interact with while playing?
  • What needs to be done first?
  • Our download will help you build a Family Gaming Plan.

Kids will likely push the limits of your Family Gaming Plan. You’ll need to have clear consequences and be ready to enforce those. You’ll want to provide praise and acknowledge when your child is keeping to the limits that you’ve set. Share with your child how that builds trust and may lead them to be given additional privileges. If they don’t keep to the plan, you’ll have to reduce or take away their privileges or have a different consequence.

When Should I Be Concerned?

If your child mentions concerning behavior from another player while gaming, you may need to step in. Seeing any major behavioral changes (such as becoming more aggressive, withdrawing from friends or having difficulty controlling their emotions) during or immediately after a game would be reason to talk to them. Also look for decreased academic performance or impacts on physical health (such as weight gain or back/neck pain caused by poor posture during gaming). If problems continue over several days or weeks, seek help from your pediatrician or from a mental health professional.