gaming (1 of 1)

Are video games improving the mental health of our kids?

gaming-1-of-1I feel I have spent a good deal of time telling my kids how excessive use of video games will turn them into zombies, so it is with a little trepidation that I write this post. Last week a research paper was released by Young and Well Cooperative Research,  that focused on the emergence of positive mental health benefits of gaming, particularly on adolescent boys and young men. I actually had the 36 page report sitting on the kitchen bench and said to my husband “best I move that because if the kids see it they will quote from it for the next 10 years!” In truth however, I have not ever been a complete ogre when it comes to the kids playing video games, and have always been aware of some of the positive educational and entertaining elements. The amount of time they spend playing them has always been a bigger challenge for myself and other parents. Hopefully by being conscious of time limits and boundaries concerning video game playing we can continue to balance the games with other social and physical pursuits.

I think we need to be clear when looking at the findings of reports like this and remember that ‘normal’ use, which I think constitutes an average of around 10 hours a week, is where we get the most benefit as opposed to excessive or addictive use which obviously has numerous negative effects.

In summary, the research found that with ‘normal’ gaming habits:

  • Video games contribute to emotional, social and psychological wellbeing.
  • How they play and with whom they are playing, becomes the most important factor in determining the positive effects.
  • There are creative, social and emotional benefits, even from some more violent games.
  • Although excessive gamers showed mild increases in problematic behaviours, it was non-gamers who were associated with the poorest mental health.
  • Frequency of play doesn’t significantly relate to body mass index
  • Video games have been found to be an effective form of play therapy and a means of relaxation and stress release.
  • Depression was found to be significantly lower in moderate players compared to those who never play games
  • Boys who never played games over the course of a week were more likely to have emotional disturbances, as they didn’t get a chance to relax and forget their problems.
  • The ability to let off steam meant feelings of anger and frustration with parents and family members dissipated after playing games.

 (Over 200 research papers were reviewed and analysed in compiling this research)

It appears more research is needed when it comes to the effects of violent games, taking in to consideration age, pre-existing behavioural issues and psychosocial vulnerability, play environments, length and type of play.

I have no doubt that much of what this report has found is true, however I think we need to be very careful in stipulating that these positive benefits can only be achieved whilst the gamer is in control of how much time they spend on the games and obviously that the interactions they are having with others online are positive.

I know of many families who struggle to get their children off the games, which suggests a lack of control from both the child and the parent. In these cases it appears any positive effects are negated either by the excessive use, or simply by the lack of understanding between parent and child as to what is appropriate and fair.

In summary I would say,  allow your kids to play video games, but monitor what they are doing, how they are interacting, who they are interacting with and for how long. Setting up strict boundaries early is still the best way of letting them regulate their behaviours later on. Keeping a healthy balance of online and real life interactions and pursuits is certainly the most effective way to reap the benefits of video games and online interactions, whilst keeping the negative effects at bay.

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This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Goodness I adore you! Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to make sense of this kind of research!

    I often think that there is always something good about everything, always a change to learn or grow etc and I think video games are no different. But I must confess I was somewhat relieved and a little surprised to hear you say that ‘normal’ use was ten hours a week… My kids are still little (my oldest are almost ten and I am sure this will change when they are older) but they play less than 2 hours a week which includes time on ‘educational’ websites and apps so I feel like we still have a good handle on the limits here and can now enjoy the benefits a little more.

    1. Thankyou Kate, you are pretty awesome too! And yes, you have an excellent handle on things. I think for those that know you and read your blog, it is also obvious how much exposure your kids get to many other social, creative and interactive pursuits!

  2. Thank you Martine for digesting this research and presenting it with your expertise. With a 3 year old and just turned 10 year old the games are mostly educational or simple apps that they play by themselves in short bursts (that probably add up time wise mind you). I wonder whether it is beneficial or problematic (or possibly both) to interact a lot with other gamers – is the social side a key to the benefits of screen-time that the research found, or does too much competition with others create issues and addictive behaviour. In the end I’m sure as you say that it is balance that is the key with this, as it with most things.

    1. Thanks Kathy. With interactive games the connections with others can be very positive and for the most part I think this is the case. But like everything there is a ‘dodgy’ side and some people with unsavoury motives. I think this is more the danger than the competitive side. With our kids I think it is better they stick to people they know as it is really not necessary for them to be talking to strangers. This research also looks at boys up to 25 so that I guess is a whole different demographic. Addiction is a real concern, but yes, keeping it under control early is the best way to keep on top of things and keep a balance.

  3. Thanks Martine, this news must be a relief to quite a few parents. In our case, or anyone else with ASD in the house, the separation of child and electronic devices becomes far more difficult. It takes us far too long to achieve and becomes quite a source of tension, regardless of warning countdowns. Yet many psychologists say the ‘down time’, especially after school is important to them. It’s a fine line we walk here at home. #teamIBOT

    1. Thanks Twitchy. Yes, absolutely, separating the technology is much more challenging for some, particularly for those with ASD. I do know that many have this difficulty so it is a very fine line. I know that they need their downtime, but I guess too you want them to have less tension and more calm….so yes a very fine line.

  4. So what sort of video games do you mean? Wi or those PC games? I’m glad to read that and actually I see benefits to games/iPads etc if they are used within certain boundaries, not of course if kids are glued to them, thanks for sharing your insights! Emily

    1. Emily the study referred to any video games, be it xbox, wii, playstation or PC. And yes used with boundaries there certainly appears to be many benefits.

  5. I completely agree! To be honest I live in a gamer household – my father, Hubby and myself all have our computers in the living room and we play together. Often my eldest will sit on someone’s lap and play along with them. She does some online MMORPG gaming herself (in the living room on one of our computers) and under supervision. It’s funny watching her because even though she’s not reading yet (she’s 5) she still managed to ‘group’ (thought not properly) with other players to accomplish tasks.

    For example yesterday she saw another player having a battle with a ooz monster (it looks a bit like an oil slick) and she announced to me “Someone needs help!” and she marched over, healed the other player (she was on my cleric) and then hit the monster on the head with her mace. It fell down, and the other player cast something nice on her and she followed them around for a while, healing them and helping them do things (she doesn’t really understand the idea of ‘questing’ yet. she just wanders around).

    Sometimes, when she’s tired, cranky, or just doesn’t want to do what I’m asking, she’ll dig her heels in and say “But I don’t WANT to stop playing”… but I don’t feel that that’s any different to her “But I don’t WANT to leave the park” or “But I don’t WANT to get out of the bath” etc. Bodies resist changes to their motion, I think kids are kinda like that too – it’s not always addiction, sometimes it’s just being a kid.

    1. Absolutely CJ. And look at the empathy skills and sense of helping others your daughter is developing. There will always be something which kids love to do and if this is the case of course they dont want to get off. As I always say, it is important to give them some times limits however as this helps them stay in control but we also need to recognise that the time spent playing is not always ‘wasting time’.

  6. Oh I am so relieved! My five year old in particular loves games! He is not addicted, because I do moniter his usage, but he loves them so much, and is often a much happier child for playing them. Especially as he has never really loved playing with toys. He’s either outside being rough and tumble, or wanting to play mine craft. And I’m ok with that 🙂

    1. Sounds like a good balance to me Jess!

  7. I think there is an issue with the over rewarding affecting the attention span (the Gifted & Talented people -forget their official name – say you should chuck out your xbox or playstation immediately because of this rewiring it does).
    I have read surgeons are often better surgeons as a result, and unfortunately the US Military funds and designs some of the games for recruitment and training (so it obviously develops some technical skills there).
    We have them, I don’t believe you can really fight it, but the moderation is the key…which is a battle in itself…

    1. It is the key Lydia but whilst they are rewiring our brains I dont think this is necessarily a bad thing. Our lives now do use different skills and require different wiring of our brains and as such these skills become an extension of the developments we start from playing video games.

  8. I am in two minds about Video Games at the Moment! Our 11 year old has a Samsung Tablet (like an ipad) and when he gets on there he never gets off…..he can be on it for over 10 hours in one day.
    Recently his Dad took it off him due to being rude and his behaviour was better while not sitting there day after day….but again he likes to play “Mindcraft”
    So I am not sure what the best is – maybe having the Tablet is good for the imagination but I wished we didn’t have the technology available to him.
    I never want a TV or xBox for that very reason – the outdoor play is way better.

    1. That is a dilemma Lisa as i believe 10 hours a day is too much. As you have alluded to it now has more control over both him and yourself as he is not willing to give up that time for other pursuits. There is nothing wrong with playing Minecraft but if it affects other areas of his life such as behaviour and pursuing outside play etc, then it is time to pull in the reigns. I am not sure what he is doing on the tablet but again the time spent is too long for his age. Best of luck

    1. Thanks Collett, yours was super too! x

  9. You know, I love computer games, and have played them loads (but not at addictive levels) for years. My daughter (3 years) loves playing on the tablet. I choose the games wisely (I think) and I keep the number of hours low. But I honestly think she gets a lot out of it. She gets quiet time in the afternoons when a lot of other kids her age would be napping. She is developing logic, patience. She is learning. I don’t know how I’ll feel about it when she gets older, but for now, it’s great.

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  11. In my humble opinion, video games can be very good for kids. It can also be the opposite, it depends on:

    #1 Type of game – Some games are educational and intriguing
    #2 Time spent on video games – Too much, well….never a good idea
    #3 Parental involvement – Talking to the kids about the game is a great way to make them think about it, explain it and put it in perspective.

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