Can gaming help your teen? So, let’s find out.

To be honest, I’ve probably spent just as much time complaining about my kids’ gaming as they have actually spent doing it. It’s a constant battle in so many households, and for many parents, the appeal of gaming online remains somewhat of a mystery.  I personally have spent hours reading about the dangers of it (reviewing everything from articles about sedentary gamers who developed blood clots to addiction camps), all in an attempt to justify my concern. 

As a college instructor, I can assure parents that we have the same worries in the classroom. At the university, my colleagues and I sometimes bemoan the fact that we can no longer assign lengthy novels due to poor attention span, or that students appear openly bored with any task that does not involve some sort of virtual orientation. 

This, we might think, validates the perspective that gaming is a total waste of time for our teens. Surely their budding talents and endless energy should be placed elsewhere… Or should they?

Gaming Doesn’t Replace Face to Face Interaction

Years ago, when I first started teaching in online formats, I thought there was no possible way to replicate the spontaneous, free-thinking experience of the physical classroom – and I was absolutely right.

I’ve learned, however, that replacement learning is not really the goal at all.

Today, it’s more about broadening the range of my teaching capabilities and learning to reach students in innovative, modernized, and engaging ways.

Such new technologies are a permanent staple in my kids’ education, for sure, but they are for me, too.

Gaming Doesn’t Replace Face to Face Interaction

One of the most difficult challenges as a teacher, and certainly as a parent, is to be open to a reorientation in thinking, especially when it comes to something that we may initially see as harmful to our kids.

While nothing replaces the unique advantages of time spent outdoors and face-to-face interaction, the world of gaming may actually have truly extraordinary benefits to offer our students, and educators are just now beginning to acknowledge the magnitude of this potential.

Not only is online gaming here to stay, but it’s also growing in scope, depth, and application in nearly every facet of our lives – especially in education.

Key Skills Gaming Has to Offer Your Teen

  • Innovation: One key benefit is that gamers are not just passive recipients of data input. Instead, they are generators of ideas, inventors, and visionaries. They construct unique social models and act in their virtual worlds, skills educators know can translate into creative, impactful learning. 
  • Decision-making: Instant decision-making is one of the most relatable and obvious advantages of gaming utilization; it trains the brain to quickly assess and parse information. So many twenty-first century occupations require this universally coveted skill, especially in areas that are growing in the labor market – medicine, IT, journalism, and finance, just to name a few.
  • Creation: The invention of Minecraft Education Edition taught educators that online gaming had practical, real-world lessons to offer. Architecture, collaboration, decision-making, and spatial identification (geometry) are all built into this wildly successful, virtually immersive experience. Instructional designers now harness the appeal and knowledge-building aspects coded into these types of games and channel these lessons into results-oriented learning.

What’s coming next, though, is more intriguing to educators, and even more convincing of the central role gaming will play in academic environments of the future.

A New Generation: Serious Games

Educational Gaming for Learners

While many parents are already familiar with online learning games, next-generation educational games, referred to in academia as serious games, take the virtualization experience to a new level. These virtual worlds, illustrated in games like Legends of Europe, include full immersion experiences in subjects like history, the social sciences, politics, and globalization. As instructors, we now have the option to individually design lessons specific to student cohorts and to integrate levels, or modes, within games that are directed towards meaningful outcomes such as empathy-building. The use of such modalities allows educators to introduce novel fields of study – and also successfully use some of these games to treat learning disorders or mental health concerns.

  • Career-oriented games: A few of the most recently coded serious games focus on subjects like ecology, environmentalism, and even epidemiology. For example, gaming provided a novel avenue for health officials to track the mental health of teens during the pandemic, as well as disseminate accurate and timely information about how to stay healthy during the ordeal. With the success of this modeling, researchers concluded that gaming is an important tool for public health. 
  • Therapeutic programs: The advent of SuperBetter, designed by mental health advocate Jane McGonigal, changed the landscape of serious gaming designed for emotional learning. Students can set goals aimed at improving psychological well-being, and prepare themselves to overcome real-world challenges. Another new addition to the serious games catalog, called EndeavorRx, is currently being used to support learning needs such as ADHD, with the data showing compelling success. The gamification of lessons within these types of games reaches students exactly where they are at, and draws from skill sets they have already acquired. As intrinsically motivating experiences are already built into the format of such games, they effectively retrain the brain without the use of medication. 

What Next

In October of 2023, Toronto Metropolitan University will host a conference of experts from all over the globe to present their ideas, research, and master plans for integrating games across the entirety of the curriculum, from kindergarten all the way through college. This kind of global investment in gaming indicates to me that it’s something I not only need to be familiar with, but it’s also something that, as both a parent and an instructor, I’ll need to be part of in order to remain current in the best educational practices. As someone who admittedly suffers from a twenty-first-century learning curve, I know I’m someone who, like so many parents, will need to take steps to keep up with it all. 

Talk with teen about online game
  • Get educated: For those of us who grew up under a free-range style of parenting, unpacking the allure of the online world can seem truly daunting. However, being educated about the various types of games that appeal to kids can help parents identify areas of interest that they wish to foster. A parent’s willingness to acquire knowledge about emerging technologies is a way to positively validate a young learner’s interests. With this knowledge in hand, families can feel empowered to select which types of games best serve their goals.
  • Talk with your teen: Parents may also want to ask their teens what it is, in particular, that they personally enjoy about online games. Be open to demonstrations so this conversation can lead to a higher level of engagement. It might be surprising to learn about the practical skills kids are building that are ready to be nurtured – both at home and in their learning environments. Together, parents and their children can define the role that gaming should play and determine what mix of games is appropriate for their individual families. 

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