Feb. 1, 2011 at 1:06 AM ET
Listen up parents: If you're not a video game player and your child is, now might be a good time to pick up a game controller and pick up a new pastime.
While many parents worry that letting their children play video games will have a negative impact on them, a new study from Brigham Young University has found that when parents play games with their children — specifically their daughters — it can actually be good for them.
Researchers from BYU's School of Family Life in Provo, Utah, found that girls who played age-appropriate video games with a parent felt more connected to their families, had fewer mental health issues and fewer problems with aggressive behavior.
And the researchers say this is the first study to show that gaming with an adult can be good for a girl.
For the study, published in Tuesday's issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers Sarah Coyne and Laura Padilla-Walker had 287 families with children between 11 and 16 years old complete video game-, behavioral-, and family-related questionnaires. They report:
We found an association between co-playing of video games and lowered internalizing (e.g., depression/anxiety) and aggressive behavior. Furthermore, girls who co-played with their parents reported more prosocial behavior toward family members, which may be a function of higher relationship quality between daughters and parents who co-play. These findings certainly confirm parents' own views of co-playing, who believe that co-playing would result in positive social and emotional outcomes. Furthermore, they allay fears that co-playing video games results in negative outcomes, at least for girls.
So why the positive impact? According to the article published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the researchers surmise:
When parents play video games with their daughters, they may be sending a myriad of messages. First, parents may show that they are willing to engage in an activity that is important to daughters. Second, playing video games can represent quality time between a daughter and a parent, especially when such play involves conversation between parent–child.
As a gamer and parent myself, this all simply makes good sense to me. After all, parents and their children have been playing games together since the dawn of time. Just because a game now appears on a TV, via a sophisticated machine, doesn't mean it has to be any less of a healthy, positive experience for a family.
But there are a couple of interesting twists in the study's findings.
The researchers found that playing games with a parent did not have an impact on the behavior or family connection for boys. Compare that to girls, for whom playing with a parent accounted for as much as 20 percent of the variation on the measured outcomes.
The researchers said it’s possible that the time boys play with parents doesn't stand out as much because they spend much more time playing with friends. The researchers said they plan to explore the reasons behind the gender differences as they continue working on the project.
Something else worth noting: The BYU researchers found that 31 percent of the children reported playing age-inappropriate games with their parents (42 percent of boys, 15 percent of girls) and they report that "heightened parent–child connection was not found for girls who played these age-inappropriate games with their parents."
"It is possible that exposure to such inappropriate content may influence both parent and daughter mood and ability to respond to each other," the researchers write. "Additionally, such games are often very intense and may interfere with conversation or interaction that may lead to heightened levels of connection."
And finally, the researchers point out that few of the mothers surveyed played games. So it was really the father/daughter time that was having an impact on the girls.
To that I say: Kudos to dads who play games with their daughters. And to the moms who don't: Give it a try. It's a lot of fun and your daughters and sons will love you for caring enough to give gaming a go.
In case you're wondering, "Mario Kart," "Super Mario Brothers," "Wii Sports," "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" were the games played most often by the girls in the study. Meanwhile, boys reported "Call of Duty," "Wii Sports" and "Halo" as their most-played games.
All of which makes me wonder ... parents, which games do you like to play with your sons and daughters? And which games do you think do the best job helping you connect with your kids?
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