Dr John Coleman and Suzie Hayman, authors of Parents and Digital Technology, talk about the benefits of video games, how the skills developed by children can be beneficial, and the use of gamification in schools to engage young people.
“Teenagers out there could probably run a polar expedition,” says Suzie Hayman, co-author of Parents and Digital Technology, about the skills children develop through video games. Although perceived as harmful, John Coleman and Suzie Hayman are adamant about how video games can benefit children. “They know how to get people together, they know about logistics. They know these things through playing that game.”
Suzie agrees that she shared the perception of video games with a lot of parents; that they were passive and violent, but actually found the opposite was true. Rather than stunting development, video games can be positive and creative, helping develop social skills and offering lessons for teachers and educators.
“I rather had this idea that games were very passive,” Suzie told us. “All you were doing was, shoot ‘em up, killing, and violence and all that sort of thing.” But that’s not entirely the case, she continued. “Then you start looking at the sort of games young people are playing and how they play them, and you discover that lot of it is about communicating with other people.”
It doesn’t stop there. Video games can be a social activity, which is not a commonly held understanding: “They’re collaborating, developing social skills, they’re developing practical skills, hand-eye co-ordination, lots of things like planning,” and as Suzie observed, the skills learned from playing video games could help these kids run a polar expedition. Both John and Suzie recognised that the negative portrayal of video games – particularly playing criminal characters – stems from misunderstanding. “[They] should actually be running countries because they are doing something that’s different – it’s demanding, and they’re coming out of it with an ability to collaborate, communicate, empathise, sympathise.” These benefits, John and Suzie noted, aren’t fully understood by parents.
But benefits can extend to learning at school too. Teachers are using a process called gamification, asking ‘what keeps kids playing?’ in order to keep them engaged with learning. “How many teachers find in schools that the kid fails once and they stop? So why is it they keep going in the games?” John and Suzie highlighted the research they conducted that helps understand the problem, and how it might be addressed: “The whole thing about a lot of games it is it requires constant effort, and learning and change, and actually failure – you fail, you try again, you fail, you try again.” Teachers have identified this behaviour and recognised how it might be replicated in classrooms, giving children constant rewards, application and recognition. The message being reinforced is once you fail, you try again – and this method is reaping benefits, as Suzie explained: “Children who have failed at school and become disengaged at school have been brought back into school by teachers who are using games.”
Dr John Coleman and Suzie Hayman are both trustees of the charity Family Lives, which helps parents deal with the changes that are a constant part of family life. For more information visit www.familylives.org.uk.
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Learn more about Parents and Digital Technology and the story behind it, in Suzie Hayman's and John Coleman's exclusive interview with Psychology Today.
Suzie Hayman is a Relate-trained counsellor, an accredited parenting educator, an agony aunt and the author of 30 books on parenting.
John Coleman is a psychologist whose primary interest is adolescence. His pioneering work with parents and families has been widely recognised, and in 2001 he was awarded an OBE for his services to young people.
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