Kids May Be Happier with a Little Gaming

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Harvard Medical School
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Kids May Be Happier with a Little Gaming

News Review from Harvard Medical School

August 5, 2014

News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Kids May Be Happier with a Little Gaming

Kids who play video games, but for less than an hour a day, may be better adjusted than those who don’t play at all. That's the conclusion of a new study of nearly 5,000 boys and girls. Their ages ranged from 10 to 15. They were asked about the time they spent playing video games. They also filled out questionnaires that assessed their emotions, conduct, attention and relationships. Those who played games for less than an hour a day were most likely to be happy and helpful. They were more emotionally stable than the other groups. They were less likely to act out. Kids who played 1 to 3 hours a day had about the same level of emotional adjustment as those who didn't play. Kids who played more than 3 hours a day tended to be less happy than the other groups. They were more likely to have behavior problems. But any effect of video games on emotions and behavior was small, researchers said. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours a day of "screen time" for children age 2 or older. The journal Pediatrics published the study. HealthDay News wrote about it August 4.


By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., M.H.C.M.
Harvard Medical School


What Is the Doctor's Reaction?

Video and computer games can be fun. Some children spend hours a day playing them. Many parents wonder, "Is this bad for my child?"

A new study in the journal Pediatrics looked at some of the positive and negative effects of playing electronic games. Researchers wanted to know how the amount of time spent playing these games affects a child's social adjustment. The researchers gave surveys to almost 5,000 boys and girls. Their ages ranged from 10 to 15.

The children and teens were asked how much time they spent playing video or computer games each day. The choices were:

  • 0 hours (non-player)
  • Less than 1 hour (light player)
  • 1 to 3 hours (moderate player)
  • More than 3 hours (heavy player)

They then were asked about:

  • Positive behaviors (such as helping others and caring about people's feelings)
  • Negative behaviors (such as having trouble paying attention and not getting along with others)
  • Level of happiness (about school, friends, family and how they looked)

The researchers found that compared with non-players:

  • Light players reported more positive behaviors and feelings and fewer negative ones
  • Moderate players reported no difference in positive or negative behaviors and feelings
  • Heavy players reported more negative behaviors and feelings and fewer positive ones

The researchers say that the differences between groups were small, but still important. Playing electronic games for less than an hour a day was linked with good social adjustment in this study. In contrast, playing for more than three hours a day was linked with poor social adjustment.


What Changes Can I Make Now?

Make sure your child spends his free time doing things that will help him develop a healthy mind and body. Great options include:

  • Reading
  • Playing outside
  • Taking part in sports
  • Spending time with friends

Playing video or computer games some of the time is OK. It may even have some benefits for your child. But playing them too much may:

  • Keep your child from getting needed exercise
  • Interfere with schoolwork and household chores
  • Possibly lead to aggressive behavior (if it is a violent game)
  • Affect your child's friendships

This is why it is important to monitor and limit the amount of time your child spends playing electronic games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of "screen time" a day. This includes watching TV or movies, playing video games and using the computer, smart phones or tablets.  A child under 2 years old should have no screen time at all.

If your child wants to play a video or computer game, consider these tips:

  • Make sure the game is suitable for her age. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rates video games. Stay away from games rated "M" for mature (for ages 17 and older). These can have extreme violence, sexual content or both.
  • Preview the game. Even with ratings, it is still important to preview the game before letting your child play. The game's rating may not match what you feel is right for your child.
  • Keep the video game console or computer in an open, common area of the house (not the bedroom). This way, your child will be able to interact with others in the house while playing. It will also let you keep track of the types of games and how much she is playing.
  • Watch your child's behavior. Look to see if he seemsmore aggressive after playing a violent game. Discuss the game with him. Explain that the violence in the game is different from what happens in real life and why.
  • Think about "active" video games. Some games do get your child moving. Remember, though, that this is not the same level of exercise as playing outside or taking part in sports.


What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?

This study gives us a better idea of how electronic gaming might affect a child's development. Expect your child's pediatrician to talk with you about limiting video games and other screen time.

More research is needed to understand how electronic gaming influences children. It seems to be more than just limiting play. Future studies will look at differences based on the type of game, why the child is playing and the child's level of engagement. This will better inform guidelines for electronic gaming made by parents, health professionals and policymakers.

Last updated August 05, 2014

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