Mind Games

Gender disparities between teens and gaming’s adverse effects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Video games may save your teenage son’s lungs.

You read that right. According to the first and largest study to look at possible health links to “gaming” (video-game playing) and problematic gaming in a community sample of adolescents, Yale School of Medicine reported no negative health consequences of gaming in boys. Researchers even found gaming to be linked to lower odds of smoking regularly.

“This is in contrast to many previously publicized reports suggesting that gaming leads to aggression,” said Rani Desai, associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology and public health at Yale.

Girls who game are a different story, however. Regular gaming was associated with getting into serious fights and carrying a weapon to school in teen females.

So if your son’s a reasonable gamer, you can relax. You don’t have to lock up the kitchen knife set yet. Just be sure to keep an eye out for excessive gaming.

If your daughter’s an avid gamer, on the other hand – keep an eye on the cutlery.  

For years now, experts have argued whether video games contribute to violence and other adverse behaviors in children and adolescents. The Yale study found evidence to arm both side of the debate with statistical information.

Even though most adolescents appear to game without any ill effects, for a small portion of teens, gaming proved to be problematic. Of adolescents surveyed, 4.9 percent reported trouble cutting back on gaming, feeling an irresistible urge to play, or experiencing tension that could only be alleviated by gaming. Most of these problematic gamers were boys, but girls considered problematic gamers were also linked to regular cigarette smoking, drug use, depression and serious fights. 

The study’s results suggest that in general “recreational gaming is relatively harmless, particularly in boys,” said Desai, who added more research needs to be conducted to refine the definition of problematic gaming and determine safe gaming levels.

Does this mean it’s okay for your kids to sit and play video games as long as they want? Probably not, since another recent study counters Yale’s findings.

A recent study from the University of Bristol's Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences showed that any more than two hours per day of television viewing, gaming or computer use were linked to psychological difficulties, the effects of which can’t be “undone” by exercise or physical activity. (This seems to be a common misconception of indoor-versus-outdoor play.)

“Low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, (but) we cannot rely on physical activity to 'compensate' for long hours of screen viewing,” said lead author Dr. Angie Page.

Kids who play video games excessively have also been shown to have low levels of Vitamin D, which can lead to high blood pressure and other heart-disease-related conditions.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 15, 2010