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Video Games Help and Harm

Is your child unusually angry and impatient? Blame the video games.

| BY Kent McDill

While fans of the video game Minecraft promote it as a way to teach children about both math and science, a psychiatrists warns again about the expanding nature of dangers children can suffer from extended video game use.

In an article posted to Psychology Today’s website, Dr. Victoria Dunckley lists the ways in which video games are hurting today’s youth. Pointing to the increase in medically treated hyper-activity in children, Dr. Dunckley said a reduction in video game play can lead to a decrease in the hyper-activity, which includes rages of anger and violence.

Dr. Dunckley suggests diagnoses of bipolar disorder or attention deficit disorder may be nothing more than the overstimulation that comes from extended video game play.

“Both parents and clinicians may be barking up the wrong tree,’’ Dunckley writes. “They are trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but (are) failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms – everyday use of electronics.”

Dunckley said parents concerned about their children’s behavior related to hyperactivity should conduct an electronic intervention to see if their behavior is more closely tied to electronic stimulation rather than a mental disorder.

“If done correctly, this intervention can produce deeper sleep, a brighter and more even mood, better focus and organization, and an increase in physical activity,’’ Dr. Dunckley wrote. “The ability to tolerate stress improves, so meltdowns diminish in both frequency and severity.”

Obviously, if all of those behaviors improve, the need to medicate a child drops.

Dr. Dunckley notes four ways extended video game play or electronic stimulus negatively affects children:

Sleep – It’s all about the light, which mimics daytime, which suppresses melatonin, which releases in the body in darkness and signals time to sleep. Research shows that light can reduce the timing of melatonin release by several times greater than the time spent with the video screen.

Reward addiction – Playing video games rewards winners, but it releases dopamine, the chemical in our body that comes from feeling happy, and video game players look for that reward over and over, so that the stimulation mimics addictive drug use.

Stress – Playing video games competitively can be stressful, and can release cortisol, the chronic stress hormone. Continued stress can suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, where mood regulation is modulated.

What else is there to do – Time spent playing video games is time not spent outdoors, which reduces exposure to nature’s mood enhancers such as fresh air, sunlight and other natural stimulants.

Of course, video game play does lead to a skill set with computers and video technology that can lead to success in the much-discussed STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The last subject, in fact, is now believed to be benefitting from children playing the popular video game Minecraft.

It is estimated that at any given moment, almost one million people are playing Minecraft, which allows gamers to create their own virtual cubic world by stacking blocks. The game is owned by Microsoft, and more than 70 million copies have been sold.

Today, educators are looking to Minecraft to assist in teaching STEM topics, incorporating the game into lesson plans.

A national STEM enrichment franchise known as Zaniac is teaching teachers how to use Minecraft to directly teach math and engineering.

“My co-founder’s kids were playing Minecraft one day at the office, and I was observing them, and thought ‘There is actually a lot of natural educational concepts that exist within the game, and I realized that it would be pretty easy to write a curriculum around what they were doing,’’ said Zaniac chief academic officer Sidh Oberoi to CNBC.

The current goal is to turn Minecraft into a teaching tool for Physics and Life Sciences, as well as a more upper-level architectural design class.

Game-based learning has increased significantly in recent years, and is even at the college level, where schools such as Michigan State and Purdue, among others, have included game-based classes in their curriculums.




About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.