Quite often when computer games and kids get publicity the news is rather negative. This new study by researchers at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues at Paris Descartes University has a different ring to it. The researchers assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children’s mental health and cognitive and social skills, and found that playing video games may have positive effects on young children. Results are published online in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.
From the press release and do note what I’ve put in bold and the correlation-nature of the study:
After adjusting for child age, gender, and number of children, the researchers found that high video game usage was associated with a 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence. There were no significant associations with any child self-reported or mother- or teacher-reported mental health problems. The researchers also found that more video game playing was associated with less relationship problems with their peers. Based on parent reporting, one in five children played video games more than 5 hours per week.
Results were based on data from the School Children Mental Health Europe project for children ages 6-11. Parents and teachers assessed their child’s mental health in a questionnaire and the children themselves responded to questions through an interactive tool. Teachers evaluated academic success. Factors associated with time spent playing video games included being a boy, being older, and belonging to a medium size family. Having a less educated or single mother decreased time spent playing video games.
“Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community. We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains and important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success,” said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.
Abstract of the study:
Background: Video games are one of the favourite leisure activities of children; the influence on child health is usually perceived to be negative. The present study assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children mental health as well as cognitive and social skills.
Methods: Data were drawn from the School Children Mental Health Europe project conducted in six European Union countries (youth ages 6–11, n = 3195). Child mental health was assessed by parents and teachers using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and by children themselves with the Dominic Interactive. Child video game usage was reported by the parents. Teachers evaluated academic functioning. Multivariable logistic regressions were used.
Results: 20 % of the children played video games more than 5 h per week. Factors associated with time spent playing video games included being a boy, being older, and belonging to a medium size family. Having a less educated, single, inactive, or psychologically distressed mother decreased time spent playing video games. Children living in Western European countries were significantly less likely to have high video game usage (9.66 vs 20.49 %) though this was not homogenous. Once adjusted for child age and gender, number of children, mothers age, marital status, education, employment status, psychological distress, and region, high usage was associated with 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning (95 % CI 1.31–2.33), and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence (95 % CI 1.44–2.47). Once controlled for high usage predictors, there were no significant associations with any child self-reported or mother- or teacher-reported mental health problems. High usage was associated with decreases in peer relationship problems [OR 0.41 (0.2–0.86) and in prosocial deficits (0.23 (0.07, 0.81)].
Conclusions: Playing video games may have positive effects on young children. Understanding the mechanisms through which video game use may stimulate children should be further investigated.