Hey, Kids. Want to Be Smarter and Friendlier? Play More Video Games. Maybe.
You might want to sit down for this, my fellow parental units: New research suggests that gaming for a few hours a week helps kids be better problem-solvers, in class and on the playground.
I know, I know. I really don’t want to hear this either. My teen and tween sure do, though. They’re both beyond addicted to Xbox (and both currently grounded from it, too, but that’s a different story).
Back to why playing video games might not be the devil after all. The results of a study published recently in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology suggest that children who game for five or more hours per week fare better in school than their peers who don’t.
Cue the collective jubilation of young gamers everywhere.
Per the research, further detailed in a Columbia University publication earlier this month, “high” video game usage was linked to 1.75 times greater chance of “high intellectual functioning,” and 1.88 times the odds of “high overall school competence.”
The study also found that, likely due to the live, multiplayer social nature of many video games today, kids who gamed a lot were more socially engaged overall. They also reported fewer relationship problems than peers who played less or didn’t play at all. Perhaps this because an increasing number of video games encourage players to work together toward a common goal.
The findings might come as a surprise to many, particularly when weighed against earlier research that points to the opposite, not to mention the general sentiment that video games hamper children’s ability to focus on less attention-hogging tasks. On the other hand, they might be surprising if you’ve gotten wind of other similar recent studies that connect gaming and good grades.
In this particular study, however, 13 researchers from the School Children Mental Health Europe project went a step beyond surface academic and social-emotional correlations. Drawing off of data supplied by parents and teachers of about 3,000 child subjects (ages 6 to 11) in six European Union countries, they concluded that children who game often during the week not only had an edge academically and socially, but also generally “suffered no emotional or mental health problems,” according to the Games and Learning Publishing Council publication GamesAndLearning.org.
"I think what we're seeing here is the evolution of gaming in modern society. Video games are now a part of a normal childhood," participating researcher and Columbia professor Katherine Keyes told U.S. News & World Report. "It's no longer that kids who play a lot video games are the isolated, techy, brainy kids. What we're seeing here is that kids who play a lot of video games are socially integrated, they're prosocial, they have good school functioning and we don't see any association with adverse mental health outcomes."
Keyes also noted that parents shouldn’t take the study’s findings as a green light to let their kids game their hearts out. “We caution against over-interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains an important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success,” she said in a statement detailing the study’s findings.
In conclusion, Keyes and her fellow researchers assert: “Playing video games may have positive effects on young children.” They were, however, careful to point out that more analysis on the topic is needed.
No emotional problems as a result of hours of gaming? Hmm, interesting, I say, as I routinely witness my obsessive young gamers (and their many friends) forgo food, family outings and even trips to the bathroom in their endless pursuit to shoot and kill anything that moves in Call of Duty or Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. They would also game nonstop over completing homework and hanging out with their friends in-person, if I allowed them to. But these are just one frustrated mother’s anecdotal observations. What do I know anyway?
Perhaps no parent or teacher who participated in the study dared to admit on paper that the child they answered questions about is so hooked on video games that he literally begs and screams for the controllers back when it’s time to quit playing. Wait, it’s probably just my kids who do that. If you see them, please tell them dinner is getting cold and I miss them.
Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper, HealthCentral.com, PsychCentral.com and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here.