My son’s video game habit worried me but it fueled his interest in coding, robots, and AI. At age 16, he won $55,000 at a science fair.

My son’s video game habit worried me but it fueled his interest in coding, robots, and AI. At age 16, he won ,000 at a science fair.
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teenage boy in red shirt working on tiny computer and three smartphones on a white card table with small plants growing under a grow light an a white cat sitting on an armchair beside him
John Benedict Estrada works on infrared images for his science fair project.

  • Maria Estrada’s children have collectively won over $67,000 in science fair awards.
  • Her son John’s video games sparked his interest in AI, robotics, and electronics.
  • Estrada worried about his video game habit at first, but now she sees some advantages to it.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Maria Estrada, 51, who is a plant-science lecturer at Fresno State and the mother of two teenagers. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

Both of my kids love to compete in science fairs. Combined, they’ve won more than $67,000 in awards for their projects.

Being immigrant parents, my husband and I are a little bit strict. We make sure that our kids follow the rules.

You need to be respectful and compassionate — that’s part of our Filipino culture. We tried to emphasize to them that academics are important, but you need to also be a well-rounded person.

But screen time is one thing that I am probably not good at. My son John loves video games, especially Mario and Pokemon.

He started playing games in fifth or sixth grade on his handheld Nintendo, I think it was. Then he had a PlayStation. He could play for hours.

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I did try to control my son’s video game use a bit to make sure he would not be addicted to it. I didn’t want him to hate me, and I believe in moderation, so I tried to be reasonable. On most school nights, we would ask him to do his assignments first.

Any technology has a positive and a negative aspect. At first, I was just looking at the negative. You don’t want your kids to be on the computer a lot.

I saw a lot of articles about kids starting on computers, smartphones, and iPads early. I felt like it could do him harm.

Then I saw how gaming piqued his interest in computers. It helped him, especially in his science fair projects.

four people standing in front of a stage wearing lanyards two young people in the middle holding up round brown medals
Left to right: Maria Estrada, her kids Pauline and John, and her husband Dexter.

After a while, I saw a lot of advantages to his video game habits.

Games introduced both of my kids to coding

It started with the consoles, but soon John was also playing games on the computer. That’s when he began researching how the game was made, which piqued his curiosity about coding.

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So I put him and my daughter, Pauline, into an after-school program where they learned to code.

They both used their coding skills later when they developed AI models for their science fair projects.

Video game controllers helped him excel at robotics

John is into electronics — not just the PlayStation 5 console. He programmed a Lego robot in fifth grade.

But video games might have taken my son a step further. John could already use controllers really well, so he got interested in building remote-controlled cars and drones.

In middle school, he built his own drone and flew it around. I don’t think he would have been able to do this if he had not been really good at playing with a joystick from his video games.

teenage boy standing in a crop field holding the controller for a drone on the dirt path next to him
Estrada’s son John likes to tinker with robotics, including drones and rovers.

Soon John was building drones and rovers for his science fair projects.

My kids’ electronics projects won awards

Eventually, the kids needed a workshop for their science projects, so we converted a big informal living room into one big table with chairs.

They built their drone there, they built their rover, they built their camera. It was so messy. I would just close the door so I wouldn’t see the mess, all the wires and cables. They had so much electronics in there.

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In 2021, when he was 16, John won the $50,000 Gordon E. Moore Award for a project he presented at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), as well as $5,000 for first place in the plant sciences category. He had developed an AI model to detect drought stress in bell pepper plants, using a robotic infrared camera he built.

John and Pauline did their next science fair project together, expanding on the concept with tomato plants and a rover.

two teens in business clothes stand in front of a science fair project presentation board
John Benedict Estrada and Pauline Estrada stand in front of their science fair project at Regeneron ISEF.

Their project went to ISEF in 2022 and won first place in the plant sciences category.

Now John is studying computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Ultimately, his gaming helped him get there.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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