Excessive Video Game Use Can Hinder Childhood Development: Experts
Nandra Galang Anissa & Viriya Paramita
Santy Dahlan is concerned about her 13-year-old son’s interest in playing video games — and its attendant health risks.
“Most of the time he complains that he gets a headache after playing for too long, because it seems to really tire his eyes,” the mother of three told the Jakarta Globe.
She said that if she had her way, her son would spend more time outside to balance out the time spent in front of the screen, allowing him to make more friends and lead a more active lifestyle.
“I try to encourage my son to ride a bike every once in a while, and I’m very happy that he still wants to,” she said.
Santy said she also wanted to introduce her children to traditional Indonesian games, such as congklak , a board game played with beads, gundu (marbles) and gasing (spinning top).
She beamed over the fact that her oldest daughter enjoyed playing such games debunked the myth that contemporary kids no longer enjoy traditional pastimes.
“My daughter came home very happy and excited after a whole day of playing traditional games at an event one time,” Santy said.
Her concerns are shared by an alarming number of parents in an age when children are more likely to spend their free time glued to their tablet computers or mobile gaming devices than playing tag or hide-and-seek.
Seto Mulyadi, a child psychologist and chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), blamed traditional games’ falling out of favor on the lack of public spaces and facilities where children can play them.
“The playing room that kids have these days is truly limited,” he said.
“In addition, some children are influenced by their parents to think of traditional games as being rather old-fashioned and not interesting.”
He said that while video games supposedly help children improve their cognitive skills, the benefits were outweighed by a worrying rash of negative points.
Among these, he said, was the propensity for children to become more introverted and selfish. Most video games also have content of questionable moral standards, which can affect an impressionable young mind, he added.
He said that another serious problem was that children who spent too much time playing video games did not get enough exercise and were prone to a range of health risks such as obesity.
Irma Gustiana, from the University of Indonesia’s Institute for Applied Psychology, said it was critical for growing children to interact as much as possible with their peers as they develop.
“Parents need to think very carefully before giving electronic gadgets to their children, especially about the impact to the child’s mental development, whether it will make them more introverted, antisocial, indolent and focused only on their online friends,” she said.
“There needs to be greater understanding on the part of the parents in picking the games that are suitable for their children considering their age and psychological development, so that there is no negative impact.”
Taken in small doses, Irma said, video games might be beneficial. She said they had some benefit in the development of children’s reflexes, language abilities, confidence and motivation, and they may also boost their sense of curiosity.
But she warned that the many negative effects were just as real, saying that children who spent more than four hours every day on video games ran a very high risk of becoming obese later in life.
She said they would become lethargic, which could affect their school life, and they would exhibit aggressive behavior if they played too many violent games.
Pros and cons
Rose Mini, another child psychologist, acknowledged the concerns but warned against rejecting technological advances.
“We shouldn’t avoid modernization, nor should we be overwhelmed by it,” she told the Globe.
“There are pros and cons to it. On the plus side, children can become more technologically savvy, but on the downside they’ll tend to socialize less. I believe we should accept it, but we should also set up boundaries.”
She suggested that parents put their kids on a “TV diet and an Internet diet.”
“That means you are not prohibiting it altogether, but you are giving your children access to it in reasonable amounts,” Rose said.
She also urged parents to take a greater role in their children’s development and education, including by making physical activities fun so exercise did not feel like a chore to them.
Palupi Soedijono is one parent who is putting this principle of moderation into practice with her child.
A teacher and mother of one, she allows her son to play with his mobile phone and tablet, but with restrictions on how long he can play.
“Although I think to an extent some games help boost my son’s analytical skills, they still have more of a negative impact,” she said.
Palupi also said she believed parents should encourage children to enjoy social activities so they did not lose the ability to interact with others.
However, she raised the concern that most suitable playgrounds now were found in malls, which raised another issue.
“I think the mall environment is unhealthy and encourages consumptive behavior,” she said.