Video games are now good for kids?

New paper in Pediatrics, “Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment“:

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: The rise of electronic games has driven both concerns and hopes regarding their potential to influence young people. Existing research identifies a series of isolated positive and negative effects, yet no research to date has examined the balance of these potential effects in a representative sample of children and adolescents. The objective of this study was to explore how time spent playing electronic games accounts for significant variation in positive and negative psychosocial adjustment using a representative cohort of children aged 10 to 15 years.

METHODS: A large sample of children and adolescents aged 10 to 15 years completed assessments of psychosocial adjustment and reported typical daily hours spent playing electronic games. Relations between different levels of engagement and indicators of positive and negative psychosocial adjustment were examined, controlling for participant age and gender and weighted for population representativeness.

There are a handful of topics that bring out hate mail for me. “Kids and video games” is one of them. Usually I’m delving into a study that’s declaring that video games are ruining kids forever. This isn’t one of those.

This study took a large sample of kids in the UK, about 5000 to be exact, between the ages of 10 and 15 years, and measured a ton of outcomes for them. They looked at how often they “engaged” with video games. They also looked at whether they had emotional problems or prosocial behavior, and whether they were satisfied with life.

Compared to those who played no video games at all, those who played them “lightly”, or less than 1 hour a day, had more prosocial behavior, more life satisfaction, and lower levels of emotional problems. Compared to those who played no video games at all, those who played “moderately”, or 1-3 hours a day, showed no difference in these outcomes.

Children who played a lot, though, or more than 3 hours a day, had less prosocial behavior, less life satisfaction, and higher levels of emotional problems compared to those who played no video games at all.

So, the take home message from this study is that playing video games up to one hour a day is associated with better outcomes than not playing at all. Playing more than 3 hours a day is associated with worse outcomes.

Many in the media will likely write headlines saying that video games are now good for kids. Even worse, they’ll write that video games improve kids’ lives. They’ll make a causal link. I’ll do no such thing here. This research, like almost all the other research, has flaws. It can’t account for lots of other stuff that might be associated with these outcomes. Video games are likely a proxy in some way for other factors.

I’ll give this study no more weight than I give the similar studies that find other results. It’s an interesting association. It’s not an RCT, though, and it doesn’t tell us if video games cause these better outcomes.

It does, however, fit into my general world belief that moderation in all things is likely the best practice.


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