Your Kids’ Video Games Will Not Encourage Healthy Eating

Dec 08

I read a tweet this morning: “Video games enourage kids to eat healthy food”

Wow!  That sounds pretty cool.  Apparently I’m not the only mom/dad/video game addict who wanted to tout this news to assuage my guilt.  As I scrolled down the twitter feed I read another ten or so tweets proclaiming the same great news.  Just as there is an army of anti-video game militants crying afoul the impact of digital playing on youth, there is a gaggle of video game advocates seeking any opportunity to say, “Hey, look! Video games are good for us after all!”  (Not unlike the boozer who reminds everyone at the party that drinking red wine on a daily basis is good for you, while he’s swilling vodka.)

I’m caught a little between those two sentiments, making me somewhat schizophrenic in my acceptance and/or hatred of video games.  It can be summed up quite neatly:  When I watch my kids running around outside among the trees and snow, a warm comfort fills my soul and a wistful smile forms on my lips.  However, when I watch my boys playing video games, I set the timer to ensure they don’t stare at that blasted screen too long, then quickly make good use of the free time it avails me, reminding myself that they’re having fun

So, yes – I think video games have a somewhat negative impact on childhood.  But, given that I allow them to play quite regularly, I’m also happy to learn of the “many benefits” that this new “hobby” offers our youngest generation of learners.  And now I learn that video games can encourage my kids to eat more fruits and vegetables?  Cool!

I’m not sure how many tweeters actually read the link about this breakthrough study, but I did.  And the headline does not clearly explain the reality of the findings.  The lead author of the study, Dr. Tom Baranowski of Baylor College of Medicine, states that the video games that increased vegetable and fruit consumption were, in fact, designed to do that.  These therapeutic games were not “commercial quality video games.”  They were games that nobody has ever heard of – Escape from Diab and Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space.  Anybody’s kids write that on their Christmas list?

In other words, don’t expect your kids to crave broccoli spears after an hour at Kirby’s Epic Yarn.  But wait!  That’s not all.  The kids’ level of physical activity in the study still remained below the minimum recommended standards.  Ouch.

Video games, it appears, are not the glorified new path to stellar parenting.  Did anyone really think it was?  Turns out, we have to keep our kids healthy and active the old fashioned way: getting their butts out the door and force-feeding them natural foods that do not come wrapped in cellophane.  Darn.

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Video Game Fun or Addiction?

Apr 27

My husband and I periodically discussed purchasing a Wii for our three boys.¬† They each have a DS Nintendo already, which they would gleefully play from sunrise to sundown if only we’d let them.¬† But, handily enough, they’re small enough to stow away in one hiding spot or another until their next Happy Hour – Hey boys!¬† Play for thirty minutes, and if you’re good – another thirty for free!¬†

Except for the odd fight that erupts when it’s time to shut them off, we have mutual respect for video game time.¬† Yet, still they want the Wii.¬† The questions my husband and I have to ask are… Why should they get it?¬† Why would we want another reason to argue over game time?¬† Why do they need yet another video game system?¬† That is, another excuse to not read a book, or play outside, or, uh, talk?¬† The latest study, has muddled our dilemma even more.

According to the study of 1,178 Americans, 20% of the kids were addicted to video games

According to the study of 1,178 Americans, 20% of the kids were addicted to video games.¬† One in five kids have an addiction?¬† That is a pretty alarming statistic.¬† To determine a child’s addiction, the study measured them against eleven symptoms and only those who exhibited at least six of them were deemed to be pathological gamers. ¬†The most interesting research in the study was the distinction¬†between the two groups:¬† one played just for fun, while the other “incurred damage to several areas of one’s life.”

In comparing video game players with pathological gamers, they learned that among the addicted players  -

  • They had been playing for more years, more often, and for more time (two times as much time as non-pathological players at 24 hours per week)
  • They knew more of the ratings symbols i.e., M for Mature, T for Teen
  • They got lower grades in school
  • They were more likely to report having trouble paying attention in school
  • They were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder
  • They were more likely to report feeling addicted to games and having friends they thought were addicted, too
  • They were much more likely to be involved in physical fights over the past year
  • They were more likely to have a video game system in their bedroom.

Interestingly, becoming addicted to video games had nothing to do with age, race, frequency of using the internet for homework, having a TV in the bedroom, or type of school the child attended.  Children were just as likely to exhibit addiction whether they attended private or public schools, or were home schooled.

The study concluded that video game addiction was definitely a predictor of poor performance in school.  But does the gaming cause bad grades, or is a student who struggles in school just more likely to play more video games?  The study did not know the answer to that.

All my children do very well in school, so perhaps it’s less likely my kids will lean towards addictive behaviour.¬† But is it worth taking the chance?¬† Then again, two of the symptoms of addiction are:

  • skipping homework to play video games, or
  • skipping chores to play video games.

Heck, as a kid I’d have laid still under my bed for an hour if it meant getting out of chores.¬† Isn’t ‚Äògetting out of work’ in the very¬†definition of Kid?¬† Sometimes, as parents, we just need to be guided by common sense.¬† Would I let my kids play twenty hours of games in a week?¬† Not a chance.¬† At least, I don’t think so.¬† But then, my kids are still young and relatively easy to control (aside from when we’re in the candy aisle of the grocery store.)

I’m not yet convinced we should buy a Wii, either now, or ever.¬† With it, comes a lot of responsibility for both parents and children.¬† As parents, we set the rules.¬† And the kids, unfortunately, have to abide by them – which is just as tough, if you’re looking at it through their tear-filled eyes.

Fortunately, Christmas is still more than six months away.¬† And then there’s the next Christmas, and the one after that.

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Are Kids Addicted to Video Games?

Nov 08

An autopsy on Friday confirmed that the body found in a field north of Barrie was, indeed, 15-year-old missing boy, Brandon Crisp. Parents across North America commiserate with the tragic loss of his parents and sisters, particularly because this story of video game addiction resonates with the personal experiences of so many. Removing privileges, such as video games, is a common, and often effective, means of teaching life lessons and has been practiced by generations of parents. Unfortunately, in Brandon’s case, what had seemed a normal course of action for concerned parents led to a tragically irrational response from a boy with an addiction.

Addiction has traditionally been relegated to vices – alcohol, drugs, smoking.

The concept of addiction has long been relegated to traditional vices – alcohol, drugs, smoking. But this incident has forced many to realize that the seemingly benign pastime of video game playing may need to be added to the list. Last Christmas, my husband and I decided to give each of our boys a DS Nintendo. Their ecstatic whoops of elation warmed my heart – that day. But, the battles that ensued for months afterward over how long and how often they could play had, on many occasions, tempted me to throw the beeping metallic boxes in the garbage (or better yet, hammer them to pieces.) The boys (6 and 8 years old) even woke late in the night sometimes to creep downstairs and play their games gleefully. Fortunately, they would guiltily confess their trespasses each morning. And I would have to find new hiding places for their DS’s.

Clearly, my husband and I realized, these little screens of animations were highly addictive and we were concerned. Now, almost a year later, we have come to a mutual understanding that the video games come out only every other day, and are timed for 30 to 40 minutes (with some exceptions.) My kids are lucky, however (or unlucky, depending on whose point of view), because I’m a fighter. They can whine and tell me I’m a mean mom until they’re red in the face (which they do) – I stand by my convictions. And it is exhausting. Just ask any parent of a video game console.

According to the National Institute on Media and the Family four out of ten parents whose kids play video games argue sometimes or very often with their children about the amount of time they spend playing. They also discovered, in a study on grade 8 and grade 9 students, that addicted video game players were involved in more physical fights, more arguments with friends and teachers than their non-addicted peers. It’s easy to sympathize with a parent who is tired of the constant battles and thinks, ‘what’s the big deal… It’s just a video game?’ After all, everyone plays video games these days. They’re right, almost.

Today, 92% of American children aged 2 – 17 play regularly. Market research firm, NPD, counts 174 million people as “gamers”, that is, those who play computer or video games. Of these, 22% of them are categorized as “young heavy gamers” and they comprise one-third of the population of console owners, with a particular preference for portable systems (DS Nintendo and PSP.) No surprise, then, that they are a marketing target for the big video game producers – Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. According to NPD’s Kids & Gaming Report, “When kids get to the 6 to 8 year-old age range is when we see them turn into more serious gamers. Not only does the amount of time they spend playing games increase the most dramatically, but they migrate from using ‘kid’ systems to using more portable and console systems as well” says Anita Frazier, an industry analyst, “This appears to be a critical age at which to capture the future gamers of the world.”

Microsoft spent $500 million to launch their Xbox 360

Microsoft hauled in a huge catch in 2000, when they spent $500 million to launch their Xbox 360 – the most they’d ever spent on a new project launch. In 2008, Microsoft was the most awarded advertiser, according to, for their successful marketing of video game, Halo 3. This Christmas, they plan to invest more money than ever to woo a wider audience for their Xbox 360.


It’s the quintessential David versus Goliath parable. Parents have little hope of defeating the forces of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo with a measley sling shot. But, all is not lost. They can arm themselves with knowledge and awareness about the very real possibility of addiction for video game players and keep a vigil eye on the types of games kids play, and for how long. Kudos to Microsoft for recently creating the to help parents limit their children’s video game content and usage. Perhaps it will help improve the grade ‘C’ that NIMF’s 2007 Video Game Report Card gave parents for their level of involvement in their children’s gaming habits as a result of their failure to use the ESRB ratings system, and their continual complacency in allowing children to purchase and play Mature rated games. Call of Duty 4 is among the top ten games NIMF recommends parents avoid for their children and teens – the very same game Brandon Crisp, tragically, lost his life for.
Do you suspect your child may have an addiction? Try this Quiz for .

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