After 4 months of observation, let me give the positive and negative aspects of allowing him to play video games with few limits:
- Improved eye hand coordination – It also appeared to have a positive affect in other areas like riding a bike and a scooter.
- Increased interest in math – He began to understand complex math (for a 4-year-old) multi-figure addition, subtraction, and multiplication.
- Organized planning – He learned how to plan ahead to complete goals and solve problems.
- Mental exercise/Map reading – I am astounded by the ease with which he was able to memorize dozens of complex worlds, maps, sequences, and characters. He now draws multi-level maps of abstract worlds on our driveway using sidewalk chalk.
- Improved reading – he can read faster and more precisely, in part, because the game forced him to – in order to survive.
- Research skills – He learned how to Google a problem and solve it using a tips and walkthroughs. But now he thinks we can solve any problem this way. I’m afraid he’s is going to grow up believing Google has all the answers.
- Frustration intolerance – He still has little tolerance for frustration. If it isn’t easy, he has emotional breakdowns and when I refuse to help, he explodes.
- Obsession – Everything he said or did was an extension of the video game. He didn’t think about or do anything that wasn’t related to the game. I hoped his obsession would fade, but after 4 months it didn’t.
- Addiction – No amount of gaming satisfied him. No matter how long we allowed him to play, he threw tantrums when asked to stop. He kept playing even when it made him miserable.
- Moodiness – How well he played affected his mood. If he struggled, his mood was negative; if he succeeded, his mood was upbeat.
The addictive nature of the game, with its quick, consistent, short term rewards, was unnerving and his inability to happily put down the controller and go to the park, was unnatural. So Christine and I decided the negatives outweighed the positives, and 4 days ago, I put the PS1 in the closet. Although he initially broke down, his mood improved within hours and has stayed positive since. His interests diversified overnight, and when we asked if he knew why we took his video game away – without prompting he said, “because you wanted me to think about something else.”
I love video games, and I’ll bring them back, with limits. But for now, I know removing them was the right choice.