The amount of time children spend playing video games is linked to small differences in their mental and social health, according to a new study.
Compared to children who didn't play any video games at all, kids who played for no more than an hour a day scored better on mental and social health assessments - while kids who played for three or more hours per day scored worse.
But the new research also found that time spent on video games might only influence a sliver of a child’s overall behavior.
“It is probably more important knowing how much (game play) is happening than controlling how much is happening,” said Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist and research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute in the UK.
For example, the game’s content and whether or not a parent plays with the child may be more important to mental and social health than how long the game is played.
Past studies highlighted positive and negative effects of video games, but Przybylski writes in the journal Pediatrics that no study has looked at the balance of these effects among children.
For the new study, he analyzed data from about 5,000 UK boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 15. The children had reported how much time they spent playing video games and completed assessments of mental and social wellbeing.
There was no difference in scores between kids who played between one and three hours of video games and those who reported no video game play.
Children who reported playing less than an hour of video games per day tended to score better on their mental and social assessments than those who reported no video game play, Przybylski found.
Specifically, an hour or less of video game play each day was tied to higher life satisfaction scores, better social scores and less internalization and externalization of problems, compared to those who didn’t play video games.
Przybylski found the opposite trend when he compared children who played three or more hours of video games per day to those who didn’t play any video games.
While the results suggests some – but not a lot – of video game play each day is tied to better mental and social wellbeing, Przybylski said only about 1.5 percent of a child’s psychosocial health may be influenced by video game time.
“There was 98.5 percent of happiness or a kid getting in trouble at school that had nothing to do with video game time,” he said.
The study can’t answer why video game time is linked to mental and social wellbeing, but Przybylski said one possibility is that kids who spend less time playing video games spend more time with friends and family.
Still, he said video game time may be constructive and social under the correct circumstances.
“Games offer a real opportunity for parents to be engaged,” Przybylski said. “It’s not like television, where you sit in parallel and just consume.”