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Video Games Good For Kids?

video games--2000/10/5 Malaysian youngster plays at video games center, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, photo
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A new report from researchers at The University of Rochester indicates that video games can improve a child's visual attention skills. Of course, some experts say, video games encourage aggressive and anti-social behavior in kids as well.

So The Early Show checked in with one cyber-addicted family to see how they're handling game time.

On an average day in the Gordon household, daughters Maxine and Nikki (with friend Derek on this particular occasion) are plugged in to video games, and tuned out to just about everything else.

Mom Susan Gordon says, "Usually, it's from the time they get home from school, until the time they go to bed. The computers are even on all night.

Gordon admits the limits she sets for the girls are loose, but still she's not always comfortable with what they're playing or with what she reads about the effects.

Gordon says, "Some of them are a little violent - that's what they want. The more, 'shoot them up' and you know, that type of game, the more they want to play."

Maxine explains the reason why she favors such games, "People blow up and you can get chopped up into little pieces and it's very gory but it's fun! I play 'Counter Strike,' which is terrorists against counter terrorists and then there's 'Matrix,' which just came out, which is dodging bullets, which is really cool."

Of course, Nikki and Maxi also play what some experts call the good games; games that help them develop skills.

Nikki says, "You get good hand-eye coordination" and Maxi agrees.

Gordon says, "These kids, oh, they're very quick. They can move that mouse and they can type away and it's like unbelievable."

So, with all the conflicting research, this technically challenged mom remains confused. The one thing she knows for sure is that she has a beautiful backyard, and her kids are never in it.

She says, "Now that the summer is coming, I hope that they'll be outside," and with a laugh she notes, "They might even take along their video games with them and their hand-held computers and their laptops, but I'm hoping that they'll get more fresh air."

Dr. David Walsh, founder of The National Institute on Media and the Family, says video games have positives and negatives, so the advice for concerned parents is not to forbid them but give proper guidelines.

Quantity and quality are the two categories parents should look out for, he says. On the average, kids play nine hours a week. According to recent studies, he says, heavy users play 22 hours and addicted kids play 55 to 60 hours a week, he says.

As far as quality, "The games to be most concerned about are adult games, the point and shoot type, that are rated "M" for mature, meaning the industry deems them inappropriate for children. These are games that are popular with boys," he says.

Research has found that a steady diet of those games has a negative impact on kids in terms of aggression. Walsh says, "Parents talk about kids almost going through a personality transformation after playing those games for hours."

But he notes, "There are games that are not only educational and can build some good skills, but they're also very entertaining as well." Skills such as problem solving, strategizing and critical thinking, he says.

Here are some of his suggestions for parents:

Time – Make sure it has a place in the kids' activities. But make sure being in front of a screen is not the only thing kids do. Walsh says, "I think we have to take it in the context of overall screen time. And clearly, some kids are way over the boundary. I think 10 to 15 hours, television and video games together, probably makes sense." That is 1 and 2 hours a day of screen time.

Types of games – "Parents should become familiar with the ratings and make sure the ratings match the kids' ages."

Place – Keep games in a public room, out of the kid's bedroom. Walsh says, "It's hard to monitor what's going on, even in terms of time. We've had kids tell us that after their parents go to bed, they get up again and play the games for a couple of hours."

Set rules early – "The when, the where, the how, so games don't start to get out of control. That's the thing you have to watch out for. Setting down those rules early is so much easier than trying to pull back after it's out of control." Walsh says it is also important for kids to know what the standards are and talk about the reasons, even if the child is not supervised. "A kid going to a friend's house to play an hour-long game is not a big deal. But if your son and daughter is always going over there to get away from your rules, that's what you need to be looking out for. It's the patterns we need to look out for."

Monitor – Walsh says, "We are living in the digital revolution so we have to develop media-wise habits and that's part of parenting, that's a responsibility we have. Watch what your kids watch. Media isn't bad; it's powerful. We have to filter the good media with our guidance and supervision."