The Good

As the first generation of parents learning to deal with the effect on excessive screen based activity on our children, finding conflicting information and generally not knowing what to do is something we hear a lot about at Summerland Camps.  For example, a study in 2008 published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that playing video games can lead to different types of benefits including teaching material to students that have attention difficulties.  U.S. Department of Education report presented evidence on the effectiveness of educational games in a 2002 study as well. Many of us as parents utilized Leapster video games in the early 2000’s to teach basic reading and math skills as well.

The debate over the use of action-packed video games is a bit less clear.  A 2003 study published in Nature, demonstrated that playing action video games can improve visual attention to the periphery of a computer screen.  Cooperative games such as “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games” or MMORPG’s involve teamwork and cooperation.  In this regard, research suggests that games requiring teamwork help people develop collaboration skills.

The Bad

While there can be some learning and entertainment value in online game playing and social media, the overuse of these activities can lead to social withdraw, missed social learning opportunities, decrease in interest in schoolwork, and lack of physical activity.  Students that lack the internal structure to know when enough is enough can easily fall into a pattern of too much screen time activity.  As parents, it’s our job to prepare our kids for the realities of life and help them develop positive habits that will successfully carry them into adulthood.

The Ugly

Structural changes in the brain can occur with video gaming overuse.  A study published in Translational Psychiatry looked at the neural basis of video gaming.  Using magnetic resonance imaging scans of 154, 14-year-olds, clinically significant changes in brain structures were found associated with the frequent game playing group only. The researchers concluded that the association of video game playing with higher left ventral striatum volume could reflect altered reward processing and represent adaptive neural plasticity.

(a) Higher grey matter volume in frequent vs infrequent video game players in left ventral striatum, (b) higher blood oxygen-level-dependent activity in frequent vs infrequent video game players during feedback of small or large loss compared with feedback of no loss. From S Kühn’s study titled, “The neural basis of video gaming.”

The association between the striatum with reward, motivation and desire has been proven by hundreds of peer-reviewed studies.  In the striatum dopamine cells perform decision-making tasks and are involved with the pursuit of desired experiences and goals.  There is no longer any question as to if excessive video game use changes brain structure.  The question is how do we mitigate the negative effects?

At Summerland Camps we don’t believe the answer is to just totally avoid technology.  This is simply not a realistic option.  Thus, we take an approach closer to a help through behavior coaching of binge eating disorder versus a 12-step approach for drugs and alcohol.  Similar to psychological approaches for changing binge eating; the option to just totally avoid the problem area is not realistic.

Many of our campers have come to rely on parents to be the time keeper and tell them to turn the game or social media activity off.  This is a recipe for disaster.  What adolescents and teens need is to develop a healthy relationship with technology, and to learn self-regulation skills to manage their behaviors without outside intervention.

At Summerland Camps we are the experts at behavioral change for technology overuse.  If you are concerned about a child or a loved one, please give us a call today and we can help.



Gentile D. A. and Gentile, J. R. “Violent Video Games as Exemplary Teachers: A Conceptual Analysis,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence9 (2008): 127–141.

Green, C. S. and Bavelier, D. “Action Video Game Modifies Visual Selective Attention,” Nature423 (2003): 534–537.

Hämäläinen, T. Manninen, S. Järvela, and P. Häkkinen, “Learning to Collaborate: Designing Collaboration in a 3-D Game Environment,” Internet and Higher Education9, no. 1 (2006): 47–61.

Kuhn, S. “The Neural Basis of Video Gaming” Translational Psychiatry (2011) 1, e53; doi:10.1038/tp.2011.53 Published online 15 November 2011

Murphy, F., Penuel, W. R. Means, B. Korbak, C, Whaley, A, and Allen, J. E., A Review of Recent Evidence on the Effectiveness of Discrete Educational Software (Washington, DC: Planning and Evaluation Service, U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

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