Could video games play a positive role in the life of children with language impairments? It might well be the case, as I found out earlier this year at an excellent workshop on language difficulties. The presenters, Professors Gina Conti-Ramsden (University of Manchester) and Kevin Durkin (University of Strathclyde), touched on various topics, including the of role modern media in the life of children and adolescents with language difficulties. The workshop began with a questionnaire asking us which modern media (TV, radio, newspaper, DVD’s, apps, picture books, ebooks, video games) we believed to be positive/negative for children with a language impairment. Then, one presenter asked us which form of media we used ourselves. Most hands went up for things like TV, newspaper, DVD's, books, mobile phone, etc. When we were asked how many of us were using video games, only one hand went up (and went down almost immediately, in amongst good natured laughter). The person who had put up her hand giggled nervously and I must confess that I felt a stab of relief at the thought that I wasn’t a user of video games. Little did I know that this workshop was going to challenge my thinking and make me change my mind on the value of video games.
What is the impact of language difficulties on friendships for children with a language impairment?
It is natural to want to form friendships. Research demonstrates that LI children (LI= Language Impaired) are no different from typically developing children in that respect. They are prosocial, they want to make friends and they are helpful and considerate of others. Due to their language difficulties, they also tend to engage less in conversation and be less skilled at interacting with others. This means that they may not have the same quality of friendships as their typically developing peers. Their desire for friendship remains the same, however they are more at risk of social difficulties and low self-esteem. This power point by the RALLI campaign (Raise Awareness of Learning Language Impairments) provides an excellent summary of friendships for adolescents with specific language impairments (SLI).
How does modern media affect social relationships for typically developing children and for children with a language impairment and how do they engage with technology?
Computers: In a 2009 study comparing computer use in adolescents with and without LI, Durkin and Conti-Ramsden found that both groups used computers for educational and recreational/interpersonal purposes. Adolescents with LI found computers less easy to use because, in their own words, there was “too much written stuff” and the information was “too technical.” Therefore, their use of computer for educational purposes was less frequent than for typically developing peers. The catch, however, is that frequency of computer use for educational purposes is associated with better educational outcomes for both LI and typically developing adolescents. Therefore, children with LI who persist in their efforts with computers are likely to get better educational outcomes and should be encouraged to do so. They should be supported in order to tackle the difficulties they report experiencing with computer use. Schools are in a great position to do so and perhaps, speech pathologists should devote more attention to this subject.
Mobile phones: Mobile phones are part of the social landscape, whether we like it or not. Are they technological miracles or an unavoidable scourge? The sight of group of kids tapping their screens rather than talking to one another raises eyebrows. But really, are phones so bad and what of children with LI? Both LI and typically developing adolescents use mobile phones primarily for social purposes: to call and send SMS to their friends (Conti-Ramsden et al., 2010; Durkin et al., 2010). Mobile phone usage and texting are heavily language-based and require well developed literacy skills. For this reason, LI children use them less than their typically developing peers and they tend to write shorter texts. We know that mobile phones play an important role in keeping in touch with friends, therefore LI teens’ lower mobile phone usage puts them at a social disadvantage. Again, they should be encouraged to engage purposefully with texting in order to help them maintain friendships.
Videogames: Videogames receive a lot of negative press. Talking from personal experience, I was against them for a long time and refused to buy any despite my children’s evident desire for them. Eventually, I relented and we acquired a second hand PlayStation 2. I strictly restricted my children’s access to it and demanded that it be put away in the cupboard after each use. It worked! The PlayStation hardly ever comes out of the cupboard and is now totally obsolete. I am not alone in fearing that overuse of the iPad, computer and videogames will have negative outcomes for my children. My concerns are that they will be less active and that it will affect their creativity, attention span, social engagement and ability to cope with being bored. However, if I am to believe the title of a 2003 Durkin and Barber article, it turns out that my children may have been “Not so doomed” after all. The study described in the article found no evidence of negative outcomes for 16 year old game-players on parameters such as “family closeness, activity involvement, positive school engagement, positive mental health, substance use, self-concept, friendship network, and disobedience to parents.” In fact, it turns out that kids who used videogames scored better on the above measures than kids who never played video games! Does this mean that videogames are positive for teenagers? Before jumping to conclusions, a longitudinal study would be required. However, it appears that playing videogames is an activity that well-adjusted people can do from time to time without negative outcomes. And so, the conference participant who was the sole videogame user of our group suddenly found herself the hero of the day after those facts were revealed! In her case, she played videogames with her kids and they had fun together as a result. Not a bad thing.
LI children and videogames.
LI children enjoy videogames as do their typically developing peers and like them, they need leisure time and down time. We also know that teenagers talk about videogames together and that children with LI need and want to engage with their peers. Yet, they tend to be less involved in conversations and be less responsive when someone else initiates conversation with them. Sharing an interest in videogames could act as a prompt for discussions with peers and facilitate social interactions. Dr. Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University, states that “video games have an appeal that crosses many demographic boundaries, such as age, gender, ethnicity, or educational attainment. They can be used to help set goals and rehearse working towards them, provide feedback, reinforcement, self-esteem, and maintain a record of behavioural change.” Read the whole article here.
What does this mean for parents, teachers, educators and speech pathologists?
Modern media such as computers, mobile phones and videogames are part of the world in which our children grow up. We have seen that they can contribute to maintaining peer relationships and fostering improved educational outcomes. Perhaps, a good measure of the value of technology is to see how your child uses it. Does it lead to conversations about the games they play? Do they meet new friends who share those interests? Do they call and chat with their friends? Are they still engaged in other activities? Do they use the computer to assist them with their school work? LI kids need to learn to become proficient computer and mobile phone users and play videogames in a way that will allow them to engage with their peers. With this in mind, adults need to make appropriate use of modern technology a priority. Perhaps, it is time to abandon popular misconceptions about technology and to help LI children embrace it.
So, what do you think? Could videogames be good for children with language impairments? Does this blog challenge your thinking? Share your thoughts below.
Durkin, K. & Barber, B. (2002) Not so doomed: computer game play and positive adolescent development, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 23 (2002) pp. 373-392.
Griffiths, M. (November 11, 2014) Playing video games is good for your brain-here’s how, Accessed online on September 22, 2015, The Conversation.
RALLI campaign (2012) Friendships and adolescents with SLI http://www.slideshare.net/search/slideshow?searchfrom=header&q= +and+adolescents+with+SLI. Accessed online September 9, 2015.
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