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Parents Are Worried About Teens Gaming, But Should They Be?

What if playing video games actually better prepares your kids for the workplace?

Whether online gaming is bad for teens -- as many believe -- or actually maybe not so bad -- as others believe -- the one "take-it-to-the-bank" is that gaming has become a huge part of the entertainment industry and is not likely to go away anytime soon. 

And yes, some parents are concerned. A recent Common Sense study found that tech use is a primary cause of conflict between them and their gaming teenagers. Of the 1,200 study participants (both parents and teens), 59 percent of the parents believe that their teenagers were "addicted to their mobile devices." One-third of parents say they argue with their kids on a daily basis about device use, the study said.

Last fall, the Common Sense Census found that tweens and teens are spending an average of six to nine hours a day with media, exclusive of their online time spent doing homework. Common Sense founder James P. Steyer wrote in the new report's introduction, "We are experiencing a transformative change in the way children interact with others, with implications for their social and emotional development."

All true. But is that necessarily a bad thing? I'm having flashbacks here of when Elvis was called the Devil and parents were aghast at The Beatles' shaggy haircuts. And OMG, pity the first teenager who got a tattoo when he wasn't joining the Navy. Times change. Truthfully, I'm no longer so confident that my 15-year-old is harming his social and emotional development because he spends a great deal of time with his phone in front of his face. Radical, right?

Let's face it, kids today socialize with each other electronically. They engage in a hours-long texting back-and-forth much the same as when we were teenagers and gabbed for hours on our Princess phones with the school friends we had just said goodbye to at the corner. I remember my mother asking through my closed bedroom door "What more do you possibly have to say to Cindy? Do your homework!"

It's not so different now. My teenagers' phones are their lifeline to the world. They coordinate hang-outs via text, hold study groups via Facetime, and listen to music constantly through their earbuds. They also snap a million photos a day -- documenting their day and sharing it with friends. Agree with it or not, they are communicating and socializing -- just without the Princess phone and loud stereo blasting.

And as for the big bad boogeyman of screen time: Playing video games is what kids do. They do it when they visit each other's homes and they do it when they are physically apart. It reminds me of the parallel play that young toddlers engage in -- where they sit side-by-side but play on their own. But it also reminds me of when my parents bought our first television and the neighbors came over to see the "home screen." Want to talk about addiction? They even developed little trays so that the family could eat dinner together while watching TV; not so remarkably, they were -- and still are -- called TV trays. And just like today, scholars were swift in their condemnation of television and lamented how kids were now glued to the TV set instead of memorizing Shakespearean sonnets and such -- like they were ever really doing that before? In fact, TV was blamed for most of society's ills. But TV proved to be just another form of mass entertainment. 

And that's precisely the role of our mobile devices today. They entertain us. 

In fact, there are some who even herald video-gaming as an excellent preparation for the skills sought in today's workplace: team-building, leadership, the ability to deeply concentrate on tasks, complex multi-tasking with ease, and problem-solving. Oh, and one other big one: the ability to engage in real-time social experiences without physically being in the same place -- a huge 21st century skill.

But getting back to the idea that gaming is just another form of mass entertainment. Would it surprise you to hear that gaming is ranked by VidStatX as the #2 most subscribed-to category of channels on YouTube and that it long ago challenged Hollywood as one of the top audience grabbers? A Nielsen report shows that about two-thirds of the U.S. population (64 percent) play video games on some device. And game launch crowds regularly match even the biggest blockbuster movie audiences. It's become enough of an issue that Hollywood studios now not only check a potential movie release date against the date of other studios' releases, but also against the release of much-anticipated new games.

"Star Wars" opening weekend last December brought in $553 million globally, notes Fortune. That would be Friday to Sunday of a popular movie-going weekend and was the largest opening weekend of a film, ever. Compare that to Fallout 4, a video game that sold 12 million units and had $750 million in sales within 24 hours of its release a month before on a Tuesday.

In 2014, the movie "Transformers: Age of Extinction" took in more than $1 billion worldwide in its first 15 weeks at the box office. By comparison, the Grand Theft Auto V game launch hit that figure in its first week of release. It became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history and broke another five sales records along the way, according to Guinness World Records

Need more? Call of Duty launched on the same day as Sony launched the James Bond film "Spectre." "Spectre" made $70 million opening weekend; Call of Duty made $550 million. 

So yeah, I've started to back off my high horse when it comes to my teenagers and their devices. Brain scientist Daphne Bavelier, who gave a TED talk called "Your brain on video games," is my new guru. See for yourself why. And remember, the key to everything in life is moderation.

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