A Parent’s Guide to Kids and Gaming Videos

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.

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Background Info

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.

They’re Fun

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.

Gaming Personalities

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:

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.

Limit Apps

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 Conclusion

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.