Are video games bad for kids?

In an age where kids as young as two are gaming, parents are wondering, “Is it OK for my child to play video games?”

By Clement Chau, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Learning Expert

As the children and media expert on the Learning Team, Clement primarily works on toys and digital products related to social studies, creativity, life skills and early childhood development. Before joining LeapFrog, he was an early education consultant, a media literacy researcher at the MIT Comparative Media Studies department, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, and a researcher and lecturer at the Tufts University Developmental Technologies Research Group. Clement received his PhD from Tufts University's Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development and completed his dissertation on evaluating children's mobile apps.

Studies show 91 percent of kids ages 2-17 are gaming in the United States.*

Many video games, regardless of whether they’re classified as learning games, provide a context for children to learn. Video games can be empowering, provide lifelong learning lessons, and incorporate many factors that make experiences genuine, provided they are created with child-players in mind. When video games are well-designed, they offer the type of appeal, challenge and interaction that engage players. Here are the things that parents should look for when choosing video games that will provide a beneficial experience for kids.

Look for games that challenge players at the right level.

Well-designed games adapt to a player’s performance in order to keep up with engagement. This means that players are always trying to better their knowledge or skills by testing out new strategies and ways to overcome obstacles. This play-pattern provides an opportunity for kids to build problem solving skills, learn to cope with frustration, and ultimately take pride in their achievements. Good video games for kids might include puzzle games, adventure-based games, and games that encourage movement and interactivity.

Look for games that foster a sense of experimentation and exploration.

They can offer meaningful and genuine challenges in a risk-free way. Players might not accomplish an objective on their first try, but the game provides a safety net for failing and the encouragement to try again.

Look for games that provide players with “fun-failure” opportunities.

Well-designed games need to provide just the right amount of challenge. They should be difficult enough to encourage players to develop persistence and “grit” to keep trying. Good games provide on-demand feedback, which facilitates learning and continuously engages the player despite failure or success. If parents are interested in using videogames as an educational activity, interactive learning games for kids are a great way to get little ones engaging with academic skills, in a way that feels like playtime!

Look for games that give perspective.

Some games allow players to adopt different characters or personalities, giving players a chance to take on different perspectives. Pretense—pretend and imaginative play—is an especially important learning mechanism for children, as well as adults.

Look for games that teach concepts that otherwise might be difficult to discuss.

Video games can offer safe virtual spaces to learn about topics like outer space and inside the human body. They also provide more dynamic and personal learning experiences that might be difficult to scale, such as interactive lessons about counting and spelling. Additionally, game narratives can emulate and simulate experiences that are hard to replicate, such as war or historical games.

When chosen well, gaming can benefit not just kids, but whole families as well.

Time spent gaming is what you make of it. Choose games that are rated as appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level. Use video gaming as a way for the family to get together and play! All kids should have a balance of different ways to engage in physical and social play, and video games serve as one of many channels to explore.