Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Should you buy video games for Christmas presents?

Lots of children are asking for video games this Christmas, and many of us are faced with question of whether or not to buy them. Are "active" video games better than those where you just sit down?

Lots of children are asking for video games this Christmas, and parents are faced with question of whether or not to buy them. Will I have to fight with my children to get them to stop playing? Are they going be sitting on the couch with a controller in their hands, and eyes fixed on the TV screen all day and night? Will I have to force my child to do their homework and be active?

For many parents, the compromise is to buy their children "active" video games instead of sitting down games. At least they are getting some exercise, right?

Well, recent studies have shown that active video games are not as active as they claim.

It is true that an active game is better than an inactive game, they are at least getting some exercise, but, a game is not a replacement for playing outside or being on a sports team!  That is where your child will benefit most.

Let's look at what the studies say.

The first is a review from Health Education & Behavior from 2012 that included seven studies done in a laboratory setting measuring the physical activity intensity of the children when they played active video games. They found that the children's level of activity was in the light to moderate intensity range.  How active were they while playing the video games?

  1. Examples of light intensity activities are slow walking, household chores, and stretching.

  1. Examples of moderate intensity activity are brisk walking, bike riding on flat surface, and catch and throw sports such as baseball, volleyball, and tennis.

  1. Examples of vigorous intensity are jogging, fast or uphill biking, fast swimming, fast dancing, and running sports such basketball and soccer.

The recommended amount of activity for children is 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity. The active video games do not meet the requirements. This study also found that most children lose interest in the game/games within four weeks!

The second study, also published in 2012, in Pediatrics gave one group of children active video games and then gave another group of children inactive video games. They then followed both groups for 12 weeks and measured their physical activity. They found that the active video game group was no more active then the inactive video game group. Both groups had the same amount of physical activity. If you are buying the active video game to make your child more active, this study suggests that it won't happen.

So what should you do if your child wants video games for Christmas?

If you decide to buy them, an active video game is still better than an inactive video game. Be prepared to have ground rules for how much time you want your child to be engaged electronically. Set guidelines and stick to them.

You might also think of other things you could buy to increase their activity. There are sports balls, equipment, a new bike, scooter, roller skates, or sign them up for a class, sport, YMCA, or a gym. You could also try gift certificates to places such as roller skating rinks, laser tag, rock climbing, or Sky Zone (trampolines). These activities will help your child be more active than any video game can. Your child will have more fun, learn new skills, and make new friends if they are outside playing, in a sport, or taking class rather than indoors playing video games!

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here.

Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »