Some time playing video games could be good for kids… Maybe

Don’t take that controller away just yet.
Don’t take that controller away just yet.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Hird
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This article has been corrected and the headline changed to note that the study’s author says his findings require more research.

With research showing that video games can have both positive and negative effects on kids, parents can be forgiven for being confused. In the US, 31% of teens play video games daily, according to the Pew Research Internet Project, consuming up to one-half of their daily free time. Now a new study suggests there may be a sweet spot for just the right amount of time that is good for gamers. Caveat: the researcher himself cautions against taking it as definitive.

The study, conducted by Andrew K. Przybylski, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, looked at survey responses of nearly 5,000 British boys and girls aged 10 to 15—75% of whom reported playing video games everyday. The kids answered questions about their life satisfaction, friendships, willingness to help others, and levels of hyperactivity and inattention.

Those who played for less than one hour a day, Przybylski found, were happier with their lives and had more emotional stability than those who never grabbed a controller. Those who played for three hours or more a day were, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most maladjusted of the lot.

Why are non-gamers at a disadvantage? Since so many of their peers are active gamers, those who don’t play can’t be part of the conversation, Przybylski tells the BBC. He suggests that the fun, interactive nature of video games works much like traditional face-to-face play by enhancing social skills and presenting opportunities for identity development.

But the press release from Oxford warns that more research is needed “to look at the specific attributes of games that make them beneficial or harmful [and] identify how social environments like family, peers and the community shape how gaming experiences influence young people.” Przybylski notes that video games are not the most important contributor for having well-adjusted kids. Factors such as strong family relationships, a positive community, and school environment play a larger, more enduring role in a child’s development.