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Digital Parenting: Gaming for Good?

New study suggests video games can help kids' cognitive abilities

DALLAS — Today's parents may feel overwhelmed with the vast array of warnings when it comes to raising their kids:

  • Beware of strangers. 
  • Don't eat processed foods. 
  • Too much screen time is bad. 
  • Video games are terrible.

Turns out new research may flip that last warning on its head.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that kids who played set amounts of video games showed "enhanced cognitive performance" compared to kids who didn't. 

It's positive news for pediatric gamers and their parents, though the study's author says it's too early to draw any hard conclusions. 

“While we cannot say whether playing video games regularly caused superior neurocognitive performance, it is an encouraging finding, and one that we must continue to investigate in these children as they transition into adolescence and young adulthood,” said Bader Chaarani.  

It appears that certain games might challenge a child's still-developing brain in ways that are beneficial. 

"Anything that interacts and engages that part of your brain is gonna show that you're performing better," says Leigh Richardson, founder of The Brain Performance Center. "There's all types of games. There are learning games, if they're interactive, it would make sense to me."

Richardson cautions parents that this new research needs some context. Not all games are created equal. And with gaming - like anything - moderation is key. But she says gaming often gets a bad rap, when in reality, they can be quite beneficial.

"You can almost see the wheels turning in their head," Richardson says. "They're thinking through - that's a good thing. They're learning critical skills, critical thinking skills. That's a great thing!"

Richardson does warn that games can be addictive, and tells parents to be aware of:

  • Kids always choose gaming over getting outdoors
  • Gaming leading to avoiding time with family or friends
  • Gaming replacing physical exercise
  • Violent content within games

However, she notes that many of today's popular games are designed with an educational focus on topics like math, reading or geography. She recommends parents look for games that can help kids in core areas of needed study, or titles that can include the entire family. Gaming with kids can be a a great opportunity for development and bonding.

"Get involved in the gaming with your kid," she says. "Play the games. Know the games they're playing. Then you can decide if, yes, this is a good fit for your family or no, it isn't."

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