Playing it smart

Playing it smart

Video games can be both friends and foes to children. Playing them right can enhance children's development in several aspects. Playing it wrong and we, especially parents, are likely to see their dark side. But the question here is can parents stop their kids playing computer games, or at least control them enough to make them stay away from them?

As a mother-of-two, I don't think we can or even should ban them from playing games. The world has changed, and the world of children these days is no longer similar to what we adults experienced, so we sometimes cannot frame or judge appropriate behaviour based on our own experience.

Children these days grow up surrounded by technology: the internet, smartphones, tablets, games and social media. They are digital natives. This explains why two-year-old kids naturally swipe their smartphone screens while most adults feel awkward when they have to deal with communication gadgets. That said, I'm not saying we should allow little kids to play with these devices on their own.

My eight-year-old girl usually gives me a hand in dealing with mobile apps on my phone when she sees me having difficultly. No one has taught her this before.

The way kids learn and think these days is different from previous generations. And this goes in line with the technology-related notion made by Ian Jukes, a university lecturer and international consultant who was a keynote speaker in Thailand for over a year.

Jukes noted that because of constant digital bombardment, the emergence of a new digital landscape and the pervasive nature of digital experiences, children today are growing up "digitally enhanced". This literally means they are neurologically-wired differently than their parents, teachers and the preceding generation.

Back to the point of children gaming; most people perceive gaming only in a negative light, associating gaming with obsession, depression, aggressiveness and a lack of social skills. Some people shrug off computer gaming, considering it a waste of time. Parents are usually worried that kids will experience falling grades at school as a result of playing games and therefore prevent their kids from playing games altogether.

But playing games has several benefits too. From my first-hand experience, games have helped improve my older daughter's mathematics skills.

Recently, I had a chance to cover a Minecraft coding tutorial, entitled Hour Of Code, organised by Microsoft Thailand. There were some 300 Thai children, from six-14 years old, that joined the session. I observed that all of them seemed happy with what they were doing.

With the coding tutorial, kids learned the basics of computer science by programming two characters to move through a simulated piece from Minecraft's world. Players are offered a set of 14 challenges, including free playtime so as to explore the coding concepts they've learned through the tutorial. They are required to plug blocks together to complete all actions and generate computer codes. Under the hood, they're creating a JavaScript code. The concepts that they will be learning are what computer programmers use every day and are the foundation of computer science.

The tutorial session proved that games and kids belong together. And it's exactly true that children become instantly engaged with each other when they play games.

Set aside Minecraft, there are many games that are designed to encourage learning, health and social engagement.

Research published by the American Psychological Association reported that besides boosting children's learning, health and social skills, playing video games is also likely to help children develop problem-solving skills.

Simple games, that are easy to access and can be played quickly, can improve players' moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety.

As a parent, we may not play the same kind of games as our kids do. But it is important that we know what our kids are playing and subsequently learn with them.

As a parent, we should guide them and monitor them through gaming instead of just curbing their activities.

Sasiwimon Boonruang is a writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Sasiwimon Boonruang

Writer for the Life section

Sasiwimon Boonruang is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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