Are you afraid that your children’s love of video games could be harming their development? Fear not. Playing on-screen games appears to have positive effects on mental health, cognitive and social skills, according to research published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

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Boys from medium-sized families are most likely to play.

Most children love video games, but how this type of play affects their health is often perceived to be negative.

In 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee found that in the US:

”Children and teenagers spend more time engaged in various media than they do in any other activity except for sleeping.”

The study revealed that children aged 8-18 years interact with a range of media for an average of 7 hours a day, 70% of American teens have a TV in their bedroom and around 50% have a video game console.

The Council recommended a maximum of 2 hours’ media a day for children, and they suggested that physicians should advise parents about the health risks of excessive, exaggerated exposure.

Concerns have been expressed about the risk of obesity, addiction, suicidality and desensitization to aggression, but results of studies overall remain contradictory and inconclusive.

Medical News Today previously reported that playing games that focus on storytelling rather than action can encourage the development of social abilities in children with autism. One study suggests that even violent video games have their plus side, as they promote visuospatial cognition.

Overall, a range of studies have produced contradictory and inconclusive results.

Researchers at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues at Paris Descartes University in France have been looking at how time spent playing video games correlates with the mental health, cognitive and social skills of children aged 6-11 years.

Data came from the School Children Mental Health Europe project. It included assessment of children’s mental health based on a questionnaire completed by parents and teachers, children’s responses to questions through an interactive tool and evaluations of academic success by teachers.

Parents reported that 20% of children played for more than 5 hours per week, 39% played for less than 1 hour a week and 40% played for 1-5 hours. Less than 1% played for more than 20 hours. In Western Europe, 9.66% of children played for more than 5 hours a week, compared with 20.4% in Eastern Europe.

After adjusting for age, gender and number of siblings, results indicated that high video game usage led to a 1.75 times greater chance of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times chance of high overall school competence.

Playing video games was not significantly linked with any mental health problems, according to the child, their mother or their teacher.

Those who played video games also appeared to have fewer relationship problems with their peers.

Older boys from medium-sized families were most likely to spend time playing video games. Children whose mother was less educated, single, inactive or psychologically distressed were less likely to play the games.

Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, says:

Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community.”

While concluding that video games are “entirely beneficial for cognitive functioning as well as for some aspects of mental health,” the authors caution against “over interpretation” of the results, urging parents to continue to exercise responsibility by setting limits on screen usage, in order to help ensure student success.

Medical News Today reported recently that playing video games can help to boost the memory in older people.