The Power of Digital Play

The Power of Digital Play

Categorized under: screen time

As parents, we sometimes forget that kids know best when it comes to play.

These past two months have been tough. I’ve found myself sleep deprived and on edge, trying to find creative ways to balance my life while making sure my daughter is okay. What I have loved are those rare moments when I can slow down and observe my daughter. They remind me that kids know best when it comes to play. Especially on those days when all my 6 year old wants to do is play Roblox. 

So, what is play?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure involved in cognitive functioning -- play is "a singular opportunity to promote social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain.” It is through play that children understand the world, express their thoughts, work through problems, deal with pressures of the moment, experiment with various forms and roles of social interaction, and learn the habits needed for intellectual growth. Most importantly, where there is no immediate danger or interference, play is a child’s most useful tool for preparing them for the future. 

In today’s world, digital play (such as video games, coding, or social media) is “simply a 21st-century style of play, the newest form of play.” And now, during the coronavirus quarantine, video games are our children’s primary means of playing and interacting with the world. I have come to realize that it is critical for us to balance our anxieties about our children's screen time (with all the internet safety issues we all face, its healthy and natural to feel anxious), while exploring the research to support the case for your child to engage in healthy and balanced game play. Video games introduce children to technology, provide families with a good bonding activity, make learning fun, are linked to creativity to higher levels of happiness and well-being, improve eyesight, and help increase children’s self confidence. They have also been linked to developing and enhancing cognitive skills including, but not limited to: problem solving and logic, increased hand-eye coordination, fine-motor, and spacial skills, planning, resource management, and logistics, multitasking, strategy, decision making, perseverance, inductive reasoning and hypothesis testing, improved memory and concentration, and more. Digital play can stimulate your child’s interest in technology, serve as a gateway to learn technological skills such as programming, and lend itself to technical expertise that may help prepare them for the future. Some studies even show that video games help young gamers develop reading and math skills. And now, more than ever, I have learned that video games can be a way for our kids to find connection, have fun, and cope during these challenging times.

If there are so many positive benefits linked to digital play, why are parent’s (including me) filled with anxiety when they see their kid immersed in a video game? Why does it have to be a reward? And does it have the potential to be more?

In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported on the power of play, comparing the American school culture “rooted in childhood stress and the elimination of the arts, physical activity and play,” narrowly focused on test prep and standardized testing with Finland’s “world-renowned school system focuses on equity, happiness, and joy of learning as the foundations of education.” Finland’s system teaches kids core subjects and 21st century skills such as problem solving, collaboration and creativity by utilizing guided play to engage students individually and with their peers in projects that are rooted in their interests and passions. 

The conversation about balancing screen time is much more than time, especially for the kids who aren’t self directed or regulated, that like working in groups. It's about balancing play, content, and it participants. When school was in session, screen time was a reward for finishing schoolwork. Now it is, and at times, has replaced schoolwork and other activities, which can feel frustrating. However, what if this is exactly what they need right now? By dismissing our children’s interests and imposing our anxieties and fears upon them, we undervalue the importance of their efforts, intelligence, capacities, and learning. According to Life Kit: Parenting’s 6 Tips for Homeschooling During Coronavirus, “now is a great time for passion projects” and for your kid to learn what they really want to learn but haven’t had time for. If we are able to find the positive in their screen time, serve as partners in their learning, and help them find more ways for them to play in both unstructured and guided activities that optimize learning, we can better understand why they need, provide more opportunities to explore their interests, and leverage it to find other passions and hobbies within and beyond screen-based media. When we tap into our kids’ motivation, they’re going to immerse themselves into what they are learning and we will get more time to ourselves. So if their passion includes screens and you're able to find a way to tap into it and promote a joyful learning experience, it might be worth considering. 

As Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, put it “instead of giving children protection, we need to give them recognition of their rights and strengths.“

How are you nurturing your child's passions this summer? 

At Digital Adventures, our goal is to best support parents during these challenging times. If your child loves video games check out our fun and engaging game design, animation, and safe gaming virtual and in-studio summer camps.

About the Author: Shuchi Sharma is the Chief Operating Officer at Digital Adventures.