Just when you thought the last salvo had been fired in the war of words about whether video gaming is healthy or harmful for kids, a recent article in The New York Times, “Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era,” has ignited a new controversy about the effects of digital entertainment on child development.
According to the article written by Matt Richtel, studies show that children from poorer families are spending considerably more time than kids from well-off families using tech gadgets to watch videos, play games, and connect on social networking sites. This growing “time-wasting gap,” researchers and policy makers say, is more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how their children use technology than of access to it.
Naturally, Richtel’s article has sparked a renewed debate on what type of play is beneficial for kids. In a “Sunday Dialogue” in the June 30, 2012 edition of The New York Times, Sarah Chumsky writes about the benefits of video gaming. “Playtime is not wasting time, regardless of format. With digital media, children learn by interacting with others, following rules, trying on new personalities, competing in games of speed or strategy and exploring new environments. They can build social, cognitive and physical skills from social networking, watching videos and battling alien invaders.”
Not so fast, counters Susan Linn. “Research has long linked excessive screen time to problems with attention, poor school performance, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. . . . In fact, research shows that the more time young children spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in the kind of play known to be essential to development and learning.”
I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on this debate, from that of a storyteller. First, I don’t think of video games as necessarily being the bad guy. After all, several commentators, in addition to Chumsky, have made the case that video games are good for kids, improving, for example, a child’s dexterity and decision making. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is even premiering an exhibition that will soon tour the country called The Art of Video Games, which explores the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium.
Video games do have their place, as long as they’re non-violent, played in moderation, and balanced with other activities involving physical exercise, play dates with friends, nature, reading, fantasy playtime, and if I may suggest, storytelling.
As parents know, video gaming is a passive activity, where the narrative and graphics are already created for, and projected to, the player. By contrast, in terms of instilling creativity, self-reflection, and values, storytelling wins hands down.
Storytelling is an active art where children conjure up their own mental images as a story appears and unfolds, stimulating creative thought and play. Along with acting, drawing, reading, and playing a musical instrument, storytelling provides kids with the creative outlets they need and crave.
And that’s the key to bringing storytelling into kid’s lives. Because everyone—toddlers, kids, teens, and adults—love a good story. It’s this innate need you can rely on.
When I’m telling a story to a group of children, I know I have my audience hooked when I look into their faces and see their mouths open in wonder, attention fixed on my every word. The need for stories is in our DNA, and kids are mesmerized by a good story, no matter how young or old they are.
Once you begin a storytelling tradition in your family, you’ll find that in every adolescent or teen there exists a youngster who grew up loving stories. Kids—no matter how technologically sophisticated or jaded by gaming and social media—long to be that impressionable child again, enthralled by one of your stories. Storytelling, in fact, becomes a means by which children can temporarily escape the pressures of growing up.
Finally, along with relying on your child’s natural love of story, look for effective times for storytelling . . . at bedtime after the lights are turned off, on shared walks with the dog, after a tiring day at school, during long car rides . . . and start a routine of telling stories during those special moments. Forming good habits, as we all know, is the best way to reduce unwanted ones.
And be encouraged. I’m beginning to see evidence of video game fatigue in my kids and their friends. Could it be that even they’ve become numbed by the hours of time spent pushing buttons and joysticks? As their infatuation with video games starts to wane, they’re actually re-discovering simple pleasures—shooting baskets, imagination play, card and board games, and yes, storytelling.
One day soon, don’t be surprised to hear your child say, “I’m bored playing videos. Could you tell me a story instead?”
© copyright 2012 by John T. McCormick. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author. Contact the author at email@example.com