Video Games Can Cause Mental Health Problems, Study Finds
Although most kids don't become addicted to video games, you may still want to keep a sharp eye on your child's gaming habits.
A study released this week in the journal Pediatrics followed more than 3,000 elementary and middle school kids in Singapore over a two-year period, looking at the problem of obsessive, or pathological gaming, and identifing the risk factors and personal characteristics involved.
Overall, kids who become pathological gamers tend to be more impulsive, have lower social competence, are less empathic and are less able to regulate their emotions, according to the authors.
Once players became pathological gamers, their grades suffered, as did their relationships with their parents. In addition, they also began to be exposed to more violent video games, which the authors say, is a concern in light of previous studies that have linked short-term and long-term effects of violent games on aggression.
In fact, the study finds kids who began playing more violent games began to have more aggressive fantasies and engaged in more aggressive behaviors. They also were more likely to be victims of aggression, the authors say.
This study is the first to show that gaming predicts other mental health disorders and is not just associated with them. So, although kids who are depressed may retreat into gaming, the gaming increases their depression and vice versa, the authors report.
"Although children do use games as a coping mechanism, it is not simply a symptom of other problems," the researchers write. "Youths who became pathological gamers ended up with increased levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia."
Yet, those who stopped their pathological gaming ended up with lower levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia than did those who remained pathological gamers, according to the findings.
The researchers also note that most pathological gamers in the study were still pathological gamers after two years, which suggests pathological gaming is not just a "phase" kids go through.
Kids who become pathological gamers started out playing for an average of 31 hours per week, compared with 19 hours for those who did not. However, the amount of gaming alone was not enough to define pathological gaming, the authors note.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.