Making Your Kids Smarter?

Last week my 11-year-old son smugly announced to me, “I have been reading an article on ways to make your brain smarter. Guess what one of the items is?”

“Um, reading?” I replied.

“No. Guess again.”

“Eating your fruits and vegetables?” “ No.”

“Minding your manners?” “No!”

At this point he could hardly contain his glee and cut off the guessing game with, “Playing violent video games makes you smarter!” Oh yeah, I am not kidding. I asked him for his source.

He trotted out the latest issue of Newsweek.

As I was paging through the magazine to verify his interpretation, he added slyly, “There are things you can do too, like drinking red wine and eating dark chocolate.” Hallelujah, my secret stash of chocolate in my desk is not only medicinal but brain food.  I have to give the kid credit for cleverly co-opting my compliance by pointing out that there was something “bad” in it for me. I hate being outsmarted by a 5th grader.

Sharon Begley’s Newsweek article, Buff Your Brain, stated that “Various studies have found that videogames quicken reactions, improve multitasking, and reduce hostile feelings after a stressful task.” Who knew? Maybe after a tough day I should try playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 or Skyrim instead of swearing to myself. I’ll be calmer and smarter at the same time.

I admit that allowing my youngest son to play “M for mature” rated games has left me a bit uncomfortable. Entries such as Modern Warfare have enough swearing to make a sailor blush. When the kids disappear into the basement we know they aren’t leaving to find a quiet place to study. As a way of assuaging our own guilt we usually euphemistically holler downstairs, “Are you saving the world again?”

Although seeing a Shakespeare play and doing word games also made the list of brain-enhancing activities, I don’t think my sons will see them as viable replacements for video games. But now, lucky for us, we can just ask if they are “getting smarter” next time we hear the click of the controller.

One more noteworthy item, the list said writing by hand engaged more sections of the brain than typing. Thus, while I am met with an icy stare when I point out to my kids that they don’t always need a laptop to write a paper, I can now advise that it is for their own good. My neurons are jumping for joy.

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To weigh in on the topic of violent video games answer the following:

To read the complete list of 31 brain-buffing items, click here:

Carol  Lewis Gullstad  January 9, 2012


  1. I think there was a distinction in that article (or perhaps it was another article) about video games being helpful when it was adults doing the playing. I feel like that’s an important distinction, perhaps because adults may be better at compartmentalizing and separating virtual reality from, well, real reality. I feel like we can shoot zombies and kill Japanese soldiers without taking those feelings of hostility beyond the couch.

  2. Melanie Bell says:

    Violent video games and kids? Smarter, perhaps. Nicer, definitely not. It’s all in what you value.

    • Sheryl Morelli says:

      Interesting research; I love University of Washington reseacher, John Medina’s , theories on how our children’s brains work. I have started recommended his ‘Brain Rules for Babies’ to all my new parents.

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