Kids are gaming more than ever this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. With many schools closed and parents exercising caution on allowing their kids outside, it is no surprise that gaming has soared.
Verizon revealed in April that during the first week of mass self-isolation, gaming had jumped a staggering 75%. Research from Nielsen also found that 82% of global consumers played video games and watched video game content during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
Jon Stainer, Managing Director of Sports at Nielsen has said, “Since the start of the pandemic, the industry has experienced massive growth with 82% of people playing video games and watching gaming video content.”
According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), more than an alarming 90 percent of American kids play video games. The number might be as high as 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls.
Screens have become a double-edge sword this year as kids rely on them for their at home studies but then also use them before or after their schooling. The amount of “non-academic” device usage, which includes gaming, has become a concern for many parents.
According to a survey of 3,500 ADDitude readers conducted in early April, 47.93% of parents said they were “very concerned” about screen time going haywire with their children. One parent who was part of the survey explained, “My kids are spending too much time on their electronic devices, but I need to do my job and stay as anxiety-free as possible. When I remove the screens, the kids get bored and argue, which makes me anxious.”
Playing video games may not be as toxic as an alcohol or opioid addiction, but for the development of the brains of children and adolescents, it can cause permanent brain damage in some individuals if done in excess. It was in May 2019 that the World Health Organization officially voted to include “gaming disorder,” or video game addiction in its International Classification of Diseases.
Spending too many hours staring at a screen can also negatively affect eye development in children and create eye strain. Kids do not differ from adults with digital eyestrain and can also experience dry eye, eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision. Since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness in the US has nearly doubled to 42 percent and surely staring at screens must have something to do with this.
Video game giants have been thriving this year, including Microsoft, Nintendo, Twitch and Activision. It was in April that Microsoft disclosed that the number of subscribers to its Game Pass service had hit 10 million. Twitch, a video game streaming platform, saw 1.49 billion gaming hours watched in April representing a 50% increase since March according to data from Arsenal.gg.
Are these tech giants doing anything however to ease security concerns for parents? Not much unfortunately, and the gaming industry offers hackers and deviants plenty of opportunity to prey on children. With how often kids are now online this year, Cybertip.ca, an online sexual exploitation of children tip line, witnessed a 66 percent spike in reports in April compared to the three previous months.
This puts the responsibility on parents to educate their children about online security risks and to inform them that anything that is personally identifiable should not be shared to anyone while playing.
What parents can realistically do to combat the cybersecurity risks, and the excessive screen time their children are now experiencing, is to set time limits and to turn them to other forms of media.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests time allotted should be under 30 to 60 minutes per day on school days and 2 hours or fewer on non- school days for video games. Any violation of the rules must be immediately acknowledged with discipline to ensure your children do not break the rule again.
“Since there’s no telling when this quarantine will end, point your children toward media that offers more than just gaming or chatting,” says Jenny Radesky, M.D., a developmental behavioral pediatrician who authored the American Academy of Pediatrics’ digital media guidelines for young children.”
Instead of sending children off to be in front of a screen, parents should have them listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Audiobooks allow children to escape in a fantasy world in a story that is narrated by someone. Of course, it important to select age-appropriate stories.
There are a wide range of podcasts to entertain young ones. Kids are always asking simple questions such as “Why is the sky blue?” Many podcasts are focused on answering these questions in enjoyable ways, including ‘But Why? A Podcast for Curious Kids.”
Whether podcasts are harmful the way excessive screen time might be, Radesky says the lack of research on the topic may be a sign that there aren’t major concerns. “I think scientists have been less worried about the disruptive aspects of audio storytelling,” remarked the pediatrician.
As screen time concerns are on the rise, turning to podcasts as a fun and even educational way to engage children may be the answer parents are looking for. Children’s audio content has flooded the airwaves, leaving plenty of choices for parents to consider.