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By Anne Collier

What?! A little videogame play a day is actually good for children? That’s what an Oxford University researcher found in a study of 5,000 UK 10-to-15-year-olds that looked into both the positive and negative impacts of videogaming. “Young people who spent less than an hour a day engaged in video games were better adjusted than those who did not play at all,” the BBC reports, citing the study published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Little gamers

Photo by Sean Dreilinger (cc licensed)

The study’s author, psychologist Andrew Przybylski, also looked at the effects of two other levels of videogame play. What he called “moderate play” (1-3 hours a day) turned up neither positive nor negative effects, and kids who played 3+ hours a day “reported lower satisfaction with their lives overall.” Overall, the Times of India adds in its coverage of the study, videogaming’s influence on children, positive or negative, “is very small when compared with more ‘enduring’ factors, such as whether the child is from a functioning family, their school relationships, and whether they are materially deprived.”

Play & social wellbeing

Those were the other factors Dr. Przybylski asked the respondents about to get at gaming’s influence, the BBC reports: “satisfaction with their lives, how well they got on with their peers, how likely they were to help people in difficulty [and] levels of hyperactivity and inattention.” He looked at the children’s responses against their levels of gameplay to see how different levels affect psychological and social wellbeing.

As for the social wellbeing part, one other number is important: how many kids are regular players – how commonplace videogaming is. The study found that about 75% of British kids play videogames daily (back in 2008, the Pew Internet Project reported 97% of US 12-to-17-year-olds played videogames, about half of them daily). If a lot of your peers play videogames (or any activity) and you’re not allowed to, you can start to miss out on things. That can affect a young person’s social life.

Moderation good in gaming too

Przybylski referred to a “common language” that develops among participants in any activity. Not knowing that language can lead to some level of social marginalization. But at the other end of the spectrum, excessive engagement in an activity, when other people you want to hang out with aren’t so engaged, can have a similar effect. That’s just one reason why moderation here, as in just about every aspect of life, is a good thing. Parents may find it comforting that something many of us, our parents and their parents were taught as kids holds true with videogame play too.

Another thing parents may find helpful to hear is the author telling the BBC that “factors such as the strength of family relationships play a larger role,” in other words have more influence on, kids’ psychosocial wellbeing than how many kids engage in videogaming. This maps to a key finding of a 2008 national task force I served on: that a child’s psychosocial makeup and home environment are better predictors of his or her wellbeing online than any technology the child uses (see this).

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