Many of our children love to play video games. But these days, they’re not just playing games—they’re spectators in the increasingly popular category of livestreams and gaming videos.
As parents and caregivers, what should we know about this burgeoning phenomenon? Should we be concerned about our children watching hours of this seemingly mindless entertainment? In this post, we’ll dive into some of the nuances of these videos.
Many parents are making a disconcerting discovery: Their children are choosing to watch videos of other people playing their favorite video games instead of playing said games themselves. In particular, children are watching videos (often referred to as “Let’s Play” videos) and live streams on platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Mixer and more. These popular videos typically show gamers playing video games while they deliver running commentaries laced with witty observations.
As parents, many of us may be confused why our children would rather watch people play video games than play themselves, however, many adults also choose to be spectators rather than participants. A more grounded comparison to those of us who can’t quite grasp the concept: Though many of us don’t play soccer, football, or basketball, we often watch these sports for the entertainment value, camaraderie or for other reasons.
All of us—children as well as adults—spend a lot of time watching other people play not just sports, but so-called "eSports" as well. For instance, viewers on the live-streaming platform Twitch logged over 2.72 billion hours in the second quarter of 2019. Gaming spectatorship is the wave of the future. In 2017, movie theater attendance hit a 25-year low, however, 638,000 people recently tuned in to watch Drake play the popular video game Fortnite. The 2024 Paris Olympics have even recently been in talks to include eSports as a “demonstration” sport.
All this said, gaming videos are attracting younger and younger audiences. As caregivers to young children, we need to be concerned about the amount of time children devote to gaming videos as well as what messages those videos convey.
The Positives of Gaming Videos
Though many times parents tend to focus on the negatives of gaming and livestream video consumption, there are actually some underlying benefits.
They Increase Skills and Promote Visual Learning
Many children consider “Let’s Play” videos as the visual "CliffsNotes" version of playing their favorite game. Through the videos, they learn the nuances and intricacies of the skills needed to play the game. They may also use Let’s Play videos to navigate portions of the game they’ve been stuck on.
Thinking about gameplay consumes a surprising amount of our children’s energy. Watching other people play the games helps children channel that cognitive energy into confidence that they can do it themselves. Improving a skill set can help children grow in other areas of their lives as well.
They Foster Social Connection
Modern games tend to build massive fanbases and communities around shared interests. Children can find a sense of community and social connection through gaming videos and those who share similar interest. They also tend to share these videos with their friends and discuss them when they’re together.
Let’s face it, the main reason children watch Let’s Play videos is for the sheer entertainment value. It’s not just about the game but about the personality of the maker of the video. Children particularly like gamers who are funny and interact with their audience in interesting ways.
The Negatives of Gaming Videos
It may be tempting to ban children outright from watching gameplay videos as to avoid the negatives that can potentially come along with them, but it’s better to carefully curate and set limits for which videos your kids are watching.
Inappropriate or Mindless Content
Let’s Play videos can be about age-appropriate games such as Minecraft and Mario Kart. But they can also feature more violent video games like Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare, Assassin’s Creed, etc. Just as with any other type of content, it’s important to vet what types of gaming videos your children are watching and ensure they’re viewing those that are most appropriate for their level of maturity.
The personalities that come along with gaming videos and livestreams are one of the biggest wildcards. Many gamers use coarse language or exhibit behavior that we’d prefer our children not model their own after. We also want our children to avoid watching gamers who practice and promote unacceptable behavior or attitudes. It can be difficult to find age appropriate gaming videos based on the game, let alone the commentary.
Too Much Time
Some gaming videos last as long as 30+ minutes (or longer), so it’s easy to spend a good chunk of the day watching them. As with all videos and screen time, setting parental controls is necessary to avoid overuse and the development of associated behaviors that often come with too much screen time.
For more on parental controls, see:
- How to Set Up Parental Controls on Your iPhone or iPad
- Android Device Parental Controls: A Comprehensive Guide
Countering Concerns About Gameplay Videos
Children and adults alike enjoy streaming Let’s Play videos and livestreams, and these videos are only gaining in popularity. Here are some rules for helping kids enjoy but not abuse watching this category of content:
Set Screen Time Limits
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children between 2-5 years old consume only one hour of screen time per day. The exact number of hours, though, is somewhat open to debate. What’s important is that we need to set screen-time limits based on our unique circumstances and that screen time is used for quality and educational content as much as possible.
Establish “No-Tech” Zones
Establishing good digital habits for kids is key. Keeping the dinner table as a no-screen zone promotes better family interactions. After all, when we all keep our heads buried in our phones or other electronic devices, we’re not talking to each other or building relationships. It’s also important to keep children off of electronics in their bedrooms to preserve sleep, both quality and quantity.
While our children are young, it’s important to keep a closer eye on not just what kind of content their consuming, but where content is coming from. Parental controls can help keep a close eye on which apps can and cannot be installed on a device.
In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with children watching gamers in child-friendly formats, though it’s important to perform due diligence to ensure kids are consuming the right type of content for the right amount of time.