I 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.