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Here's to healthy gaming

Three kids gather around their smartphones.

May 19, 2022—Video games have come a long way since the days when kids went to their friends' houses to blast virtual spaceships on a console. Nowadays, young gamers are likely to meet up with kids around the world online.

Many kids play what's known as massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, which let large numbers of players connect to the game's server. Headsets let MMO players talk with each other as well as hear the in-game sounds. Players can also message each other.

Smartphone apps are another popular way for kids to play video games. They might play with others or enjoy solo games.

Pros and cons

Beyond being fun, video games and MMO games in particular might have social benefits, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). For starters, kids can play in teams, which lets them practice teamwork while they best their opponents. Gaming may also help kids maintain friendships and blow off steam.

On the downside, kids might be exposed to cyberbullying or strangers online.

Some games allow players to purchase in-game items for their virtual world (like character outfits or weapons) with such payment methods as a credit card—even if the app is free. These costs can add up.

And unlimited gaming of any type can crowd out exercise and sleep and cause tired eyes.

A healthy balance

Whether your kids play video games on a phone app, a computer or a gaming console, the AAP and other experts say these tips can help them have a safe and positive experience:

  • If your child wants to play a new game, check it out yourself. Go online (such as at an app store where the game is sold) and look at screenshots of the game. Read the description, content rating and user reviews. If you decide to buy the game, give it a try yourself.
  • Talk to kids about privacy. Remind them not to give out personal information, like their address or phone number. If a game asks for such information, tell your kids not to share it without your permission.
  • Use safety features and parental controls. MMO games may let kids block or report players who engage in inappropriate behaviors. You may be able to use a password so that your child can't buy in-game items without your permission.
  • Talk to your kids about their gaming and who they talk to or message online. Let them know they can always talk to you about problems that happen in the game and in real life.
  • Set time limits. Offer other fun things to do, like playing outside. The AAP recommends that kids get 60 minutes of daily active play. You also might want to set a rule about no gaming before homework.
  • Keep video games out of the bedroom. Keep your child's gaming console in a family room or other shared area. That can make it easier to check in. And it can help your child build better sleep habits.
  • Play with them. Think of video games as one more fun thing you can do together!

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