The debate on whether you should allow your kids to play video games, especially at a young age, has been debated in just about every political, social, and moral circle you can think up. With mass shootings and other terrible events being covered more and more efficiently and aggressively by news outlets with twenty-four hours of programing to fill, a lot of folks out there like to point to more controversial games such as the Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series or Activision’s Call of Duty franchise as reasons these terrible tragedies occur. I have never been one to follow this opinion, but as the topic grows more and more, I have also found the lack of material I can use to combat these claims is lacking or hard to find. Fortunately, researchers at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, UK have conducted a massive video game study spanning over ten years and including more than 11,000 children.
The study, while also looking at children’s television usage, is one of the first studies to separate television and video games. The data was collected by parents in the participating families for measurement on the number of hours spent with each medium. While it may not seem the most accurate way to track the data, the researchers involved believe, and most would concur, that the enormous sample size is more than sufficient to weed out any incorrectly reported data or other such outliers.
You can read the original paper and it’s finding here.
So what did the study uncover? Here are some of the main point the paper offers:
- Exposure to video games, even as early as 5 years old, has no effect on behavior, emotion, or attention issues.
- Neither television or gaming lead to attention or emotional issues later.
- Watching 3 or more hours of television at age 5 did lead to a small increase in those same children, but only through age 7.
- Girls and boys were not affected differently, according to the study’s results.
The study does say that the reason behind games showing no effect in behavior versus the 3 hour finding with television may have something to do with a lower general exposure to games and/or more strict policing of games versus television. The study also points out that it did not track the type of media that children were consuming, only the numbers of hour it was consumed.
So what does all of this mean? Well, for all of us out there that have always felt that games are simply the “new guy on the block” in terms of entertainment, and that with proper parenting and a general understanding of right and wrong can usually prevent media consumption from leading to behavioral issues, this study is a great tool to have at our disposal. While it certainly won’t be the last word in this debate, I do think that it is large enough that it merits attention from even the most vocal video game industry detractor. I for one have many fond memories of all forms of entertainment from my childhood, and as the parent of a very soon to be 5-year-old, I’m proud to say that he enjoys those things too. We play games together, go to the movies, and watch our favorite TV shows, and because I am knowledgable about media and about technology, I’m able to make sure we’re both enjoying all of those things in a safe and responsible way, and you can too.