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Is Online Gaming Good for Your Kid

By Tom Dunlap

Parents might not be aware just how huge the gaming industry has become. It’s routine for the biggest new games to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in sales on their opening weekends. Earlier this year, the new Kinect gaming system from Microsoft set a Guinness World Record for the “fastest-selling consumer device” in history, selling more than 10 million units in fewer than 60 days.

Yet many parents are wondering: Is online gaming good for our teens?

My gut reaction as a dad in my 40s was “Heck no -- get them dang kids outside! There are weeds to be pulled and sun to be soaked up.” When I envisioned an obsessed online gamer, my mind went back to the lonely kids I remembered playing Pac Man in their living rooms alone until their thumbs bled (a tad dramatic, but you get my drift).

But as I’ve talked to people, I’ve changed my mind about online gaming. It turns out online gaming can be a good thing because it can give a kid a sense of connection and community. And this is lacking for many teens these days. (Which could be the subject of about 20 blog posts or two books, so I won’t address that here.)

Online gaming can also teach leadership. An 8-month study on leadership in games, commissioned by IBM, found that online games can be realistic simulators for contemporary leadership training, helping to teach “soft” aspects of leadership. For example, the pace of games means that leaders often have to make hundreds of strategic decisions in an hour of game play. The relatively mild consequences of failure allow players to test out a variety of leadership techniques, and the temporary nature of many roles in games provides people who are followers in the real world with opportunities to lead.

Online players are rewarded for their efforts immediately after a task is completed, creating a strong connection between effort and reward. Even the military is using gaming as a training tool. A retired admiral explained some of the new training methods in a Washington Post article .

On the other hand, researchers are still debating the impact of violence in interactive games and how it shapes youth’s offline behaviors. An analysis published by the American Psychological Association argued that “violent video games are significantly associated with increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior.”

So the bottom line is always the same: You have to monitor the content your teens are exposed to, including gaming content. Rather than fearing online gaming, just limit it. Keep an eye on your kids and understand that they could be developing valuable skills.