How to Decide if Video Games are Bad For Your Child

Video games can cause a lot of hand-wringing for parents. Should kids be allowed to play video games? Which games are OK to play? Will gaming have negative long-term effects? What if they become addicted to video games? Many parents are caught in the tension of concern for their child’s well-being and their own happy memories of playing video games as a kid.

One of the most popular video games, Fortnite, has been making headlines due to the amount of time young people are spending playing it. A listener recently called in to Go Ask Your Father™ because she was concerned about her grandchildren playing Fortnite and other video games. In response, Monsignor Stuart Swetland offered his advice on how to decide if video games are bad for your child.

“I can only give general rules because I don’t know this particular game,” he said. “Though I do know people are very concerned that people are spending a disproportionate amount of time with it.”

Offering his personal approach to video games, Msgr. Swetland told the listener, “I don’t game, myself. I actually had some games on my mobile devices. Single-player, innocent little games. But I looked at the amount of time I spent on it and decided that was all time better spent doing other things. So I’m kind of negative on these things. I think they’re great time-wasters. Though parents who are really very good parents do tell me that they can be helpful, some of these games, for helping their children in certain ways. For learning and also for some of the communications they do.”

He clarified that although he has negative opinions about video games, he doesn’t think they are bad in and of themselves. He said, “We don’t want to be complete Luddites and throw out everything that is modern as bad. But we do want to be cautious and careful because we want what’s best for our children.”

Regarding the concern that young people can become addicted to video games, Msgr. Swetland pointed out, “All things can lead into other things like that, when it comes to video gaming or anything else. But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I remember when I was at an appropriate age, my dad and mom began to teach my brother, my sister, and myself about the appropriate use of wine with dinner. About how it can be part of a healthy diet.”

“Now, you can say that wine can lead to alcoholism, and alcohol consumption can lead to drug abuse. And it can,” he continued. “But that doesn’t mean that we have to say that all use of alcohol is immoral. Of course it isn’t. Our Lord changed water into wine at a party for a particular purpose – for the celebration of a wedding. He, as a 1st-century Palestinian Jew would have had wine frequently in His diet and His meals. So it’s a good thing, we just have to be careful that it’s not misused, or that it isn’t conducive to people reaching for other kinds of stimulants or depressants that are, in fact, much more problematic, if not illegal.”

Another concern that parents, early childhood development experts, and psychologists have is that video games can affect a child’s mood and behavior. Some children become angry and irritable after playing them, more likely to lash out and cause disruptions at home and school.

Monsignor Swetland addressed this concern, saying, “The Lord gives us the rule that by their fruit you shall know them. So one way of judging if something is good or not is the results of what it does when someone is involved in it. For example, if someone was involved in Ultimate Frisbee … and if every time someone played Ultimate Frisbee they were surly and came away angry and bitter and snapping at their parents, obviously you would say Ultimate Frisbee isn’t good for my kid. No matter what other good effects it might have.”

“So the same rule would apply to anything if the child was being negatively affected. It’s the same thing. So by your fruits you shall know them.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

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