Stories about: Videogames

So much for quick fixes: active video games don’t make kids more active

It seemed like such a great idea.

We need kids to be more active. With a third of US kids overweight or obese, and studies showing that childhood obesity leads to adult obesity, getting the recommended hour a day of activity is more important than ever. Problem is, kids aren’t doing it. For all sorts of reasons, some good and most bad, our kids are turning into couch potatoes.

I was getting really frustrated with my inability to get my patients moving. Then I heard about active video games, like Wii Fit and Just Dance and Dance Dance Revolution, and I thought: this is perfect. Kids love video games.

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How do I get my 4 year old’s grandpa not to play violent video games with him?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

Q:My father-in-law bonds with my 4-year-old son by playing video games. Recently, he bought a LEGO pirates game, rated for 10 year olds, and the two play it for about an hour every time they see each other. I love that they spend time together, but since they started playing this game, my son has become more violent. My father-in-law doesn’t see the problem, even though I’ve tried talking with him about it. Is there research that might help convince him to choose other bonding activities?

-Baffled over bonding in Palo Alto, CA

A: Dear Baffled,

You know your child better than anyone else, so you are most sensitive to a change in his behavior—and you are in the best position to guide him toward the person you want him to become.

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What does the new AAP policy say about screentime for babies?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a revised policy on media for kids two and younger. The recommendations for this age group are much the same as they were in 1999—that it is best for their developing brains and bodies to avoid both screen use (such as placing a toddler in front of a TV or video) and background media (such as leaving the TV on in the same room where a baby is playing)—but there is new scientific evidence to support these recommendations. An infant’s brain triples in volume in the first two years of life and research suggests that brain development during that time can benefit the most from:

We already knew that newborn brains develop in response to whatever is in their environment. New research from the past 12 years suggests that interacting with people, exploring the physical world (like stacking blocks or “reading” board books), and playing in open-ended ways are great for that development. And no matter how “educational” their content, screen media can’t provide that kind of environment.

That said, screen media aren’t toxic for babies—they’re just not really what they need. And other kinds of media, like music and books, can be great for kids of this age group. The updated AAP policy statement also recognizes that there are good screen media options for preschoolers, whose brains have developed to the point where they can learn from electronic screens.

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Can toys and DVDs really help my baby’s language development?

Yesterday marked the close of Better Speech and Hearing Month, and as most parents will tell you, few developmental milestones are more exciting than a baby learning to talk. From sounds and syllables, to words and sentences, the first few months of a child’s language development can be some of the proudest moments for parents. But because budding communication skills are so important (and fun to watch) a lot of toy companies have flooded the market with products designed to assist in children’s speech development. As a parent it’s natural to want to give your young talker every advantage available, but are fancy toys and DVDs really the best ways to help your child’s language development? Hope Dickinson, MS, CCC-SLP, coordinator of the Speech-Language Pathology Services at Children’s Hospital Boston at Waltham and Lisa Schonberger, MS, CCC-SLP coordinator of speech-language pathology services in  Children’s Hospital Boston at Lexington are here with some answers.

Hope Dickinson, MS, CCC-SLP

Parents often ask the clinicians in the Speech Language Pathology Program here at Children’s Hospital Boston which toys are the best to promote language and communication in young children. With so many items available it can seem overwhelming, but our philosophy is that the chosen toy or activity is not nearly as important as the interaction that takes place between a parent and child while the toy is being used. As a rule, you don’t need to spend money on the latest and greatest educational toys or high-tech gadgets; most of the time it’s the simple, “old fashioned” toys that work best. By requiring more interaction and communication between child and caregiver during playtime, these toys do more to promote language development than many of their next generation equivalents. When choosing toys for your young talker, here are a few tips:

  • Avoid too many “solitary” activities like video games, computer games and DVDs or TV programs (this includes all the “educational” ones too). Instead, have your child engage in activities that require interaction, sharing and conversation. There is not a DVD or computer game out there that can provide better vocabulary input than an involved parent or caregiver.
  • Unplug your toy box! Newer versions of old classics (e.g., ring stackers, farms, dollhouses, toy cars and dolls…) often come with lights and sounds nowadays. Press on the mud button and you hear a pig squeal, squeeze a doll’s foot and she asks for a hug, etc. The level of sophistication in some of these products is a testament to how far toys have come in a few years, but when a toy does all of the “work,” there is less need for the child to use his own imagination. They become more passive learners. If you have electronic versions of some of these toys, take the batteries out and let your child develop her pretend, problem solving and communication skills while playing with them.
  • Pretend play items such as a farm, zoo, doctor kit, workbench, doll house or play phones encourage narrative play and help young children’s language and social skills. Use them with your children and you’re likely to be amazed with all the scenarios and storylines they come up with. As their playmate, you can teach new words or concepts related to what you are playing with, help them understand cause and effect, learn sequences and solve problems.
  • Lisa Schonberger, MS, CCC-SLP

    Look for toys that can be used in a number of ways and can therefore “grow” with your child. Blocks can be stacked and knocked down, used as chairs for dolls, lined up and counted, sorted by color, used to build a house and make a great low-calorie substitution for pretend “cookies” at a tea party. This symbolic substitution is an important cognitive step, and is great fun too.

  • Board games are not bored games. Games can be lively and interactive and are great for language growth. Games can be useful for building memory skills and vocabulary, and for teaching concepts like colors, sizes, and quantities. Some favorites in this category are Go Fish, Blurt, Scattergories, Boggle, Simon Says, Quiddler, I Spy, 20 Questions, Scrabble, Guess Who? and Memory.
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