Studies about video games and behavior have taught us to be wary. Violent games promote aggressive behavior and dampen empathy in kids. Addiction to video games appears to result in depression, social isolation and falling grades. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 2 years have no screen time, and children older than 2 limit their total screen time for the day to two hours. It is tempting to think that if limited screen time is good, then zero screen time must be better.
The data, however, do not bear out such a blanket recommendation. A 2014 study published in Pediatrics looked at psychological and peer problems, empathy and life satisfaction in children all over the video game spectrum. Some kids in the study never played, light players averaged less than an hour per day, moderate players one to three hours and the rest clocked more than three hours per day. How did everyone fare?
In short, light players fared best. The heavy players, who comprise the 4-9 percent of kids who qualify as pathological gamers, fared worst. Kids who played no video games and the ones who played one to three hours per day did about average. In other words, the kids who played video games a little every day were a bit better adjusted than the kids who never played at all, and even a couple of hours on the Wii didn’t do any harm.
In addition to these mood benefits, other research has shown that playing video games benefits our visual-spatial processing  and reaction time. Many games emphasize imaginative play, exploration and creativity. When parents join in the fun (however badly), we engage our kids in their own world. Rather than condemning video games as a whole, we need to be selective about the types of games our kids play, make sure their playing is in balance with other activities and then try to keep up.
Dr. Suzanne Condron is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center whose clinical interests include obesity, nutrition, allergies, asthma, childhood development, literacy, infectious diseases and preventive medicine.
 Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N, et al. Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytical review. Psychol Bull. 2010 Mar; 136(2): 151-73.
 Gentile DA, Choo H, Liao A, et al. Pathological video game use among youths: a two year longitudinal study. Pediatrics 2011; 127: e 319-e329.
 Przybylski AK. Electronic gaming and psychosocial adjustment. Pediatrics.2014; 134: e716-e722.
 Spence I, Feng J. Video games and spatial cognition. Review of General Psychology 2010; Vol. 14, No. 2, 92–104.