It’s no secret that we’re struggling to get our children and teenagers to read more.

We are trying. Efforts to build a large public library are underway. Efforts begun in last year’s Reading Year are hopefully being sustained.

It will be slow but eventually we should be able to reach a level where our local authors and creative writers can invent stories that attract large readership, both young and old, similar to what JK Rowling, George RR Martin, and JRR Tolkien have achieved.

Besides getting our youth to read more, there are other areas that are being focused on such as providing more sport facilities, organising tournaments and basically providing opportunities to remain engaged with sports beyond the school and college years.

Besides that there are now opportunities for the youth to participate in art, dance, film, and music, among others. These are all healthy activities that can only contribute positively to development.

There is another area that has mostly gone unnoticed.

In the past decade and a half, video game parlours have mushroomed in Bhutan. In Thimphu alone, there are around 80 gaming parlours. It is usual to see these gaming centres packed with teenagers and even adults.

At first glance, it may seem that those frequenting these gaming centres are engaged in a non-productive past time.

Those playing remain largely sedentary, glued to their screens for hours.

It would be nice to know if these gaming parlours are having an impact on the children, and if so, what kind of impact.

International reports and studies show that playing videos games have both pros and cons, as does everything else. There can be health risks but there can also be benefits like picking up problem solving skills.

We don’t need international studies to know that our children are spending longer hours playing video games, at younger and younger ages. Some of our children throw tantrums when we attempt to disconnect them from the games or technology. There is a need for us to moderate.

While we don’t yet know if the gaming parlours are having an adverse impact, it would be wise to ensure that some guidelines are being followed by those who run these establishments.

We would prefer our children and teenagers to spend their time in a gaming parlour rather than in a bar. However, parents and guardians, and if possible, even those who run the parlours must ensure their young customers are not spending too much time playing video games.

The environment should also be tobacco, alcohol and drug-free. Any parlours found violating these simple guidelines should be penalised.

There is potential for the gaming parlours to serve an even greater role than just a commercial establishment. We need to identify how this can be achieved.