There is an interesting, albeit controversial talk on TED by Gabe Zichermann about how video games can make kids smarter. Personally, I thought the talk was somewhat skewed towards video games. Although the intention was supposed to have been to provide perspective and to talk about how video games can be also be beneficial instead of adopting an all or nothing attitude, the insinuation that reading a book on a Sunday afternoon sipping herbal tea will become obsolete seems to suggest otherwise. Perhaps he should have left that part out…
Anyway, back to the talk and its good points. The problem with computers and video games is the same as the problem we have with TV. When we talk about them in relation to our children, there is a tendency to condemn them and view them in a negative light. While we openly proclaim our hearty agreement that screen time is bad, we also confess our negligence in allowing our children to watch TV and play computer games. And yet, any parent knows that if we were serious about the conviction that TV and computers are bad, then what we really should be doing is cutting them out of our lives – completely. There’s no use telling our children that TV and computers are bad for them while we spend half a day in front of a screen (be it the TV, a computer screen, or even our smart phones).
This is where I stand – some TV and computers are fine. And I agree with Zichermann – they can even be good for children. I don’t like it when the children spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t think all screen time is bad. Neither do I think addiction is a problem. People talk about the evils of TV and computer game addictions like somehow it’s worse when you’re using a screen, but addiction is not unique to these activities. You can be addicted to anything. At one point of my life, I was addicted to rock climbing. Seriously. It got so bad that it was interfering with my personal life and affecting my relationships with anyone that wasn’t into rock climbing. Once I was so late for a family dinner that my aunt called me to tell me not to bother showing up because they were getting ready to leave the restaurant.
So now my general rule is: “everything in moderation”.
If you want to see the talk by Gabe Zichermann, here it is:
If you aren’t convinced that computer games can help children, an inspiring story to listen to is Ananth Pai’s (see the results). Ananth Pai is a teacher in elementary school who discovered that “7 out of 10 3rd graders are not proficient in math when they graduate to the 4th grade. They are not reading at all, much less at a third grade level. And he learned that if they cannot do things by the end of the 3rd grade, the decline will begin in earnest from there.” So he decided to change the system by introducing video games into his classroom. He brought in computers and Nintendo DS’s and he let his student play educational video games in class and these were his results:
In 18 weeks, the children went from below 3rd grade level in reading and math to a mid-4th grade level in reading and math. They were excited about learning and said that class was “fun”.
There is a short video clip demonstrating Pai’s class in operation:
We all know from experience that learning takes place more easily and quickly if we’re having fun. Retention rates are also better when we enjoy what we’re doing. If playing a computer game can achieve this more effectively than an existing method of learning, then shouldn’t we be embracing it rather than condemning the methods because “screen time” is bad? As I said earlier – everything in moderation. So rather than trying to avoid video games and TV altogether, we should include them simply as one of our many tools for educating our children and stop feeling guilty about using them.