What are the causes and effects of increased gaming in adolescent girls and boys?

Technological innovations, multiple genres, online gaming and mobile apps have led gaming to become big business. Call of Duty Black Ops sold 1.4 million copies and registered 2.6 million Xbox Live players on launch day. Adolescents increasingly use gaming for a significant part of their leisure time. New research in the Journal of Youth Studies examines World Health Organisation data on adolescent well-being collected from over 4,000 children aged 11-15 to determine why some adolescents gaming habits are escalating. The author reflects on gender, age, policy, parental influences and outcomes for adolescents.

About half of all adolescents are gaming for two or more hours per day, spending more time at home and less time out socialising. There are well-documented risks to social development, physiology, sleep, mental health and school performance.  Further hypotheses of reduced empathy and propensity for aggression remain unproven. On the plus side gaming is shown to benefit motivational skills, tenacity, problem solving and strategic thinking. So how much is too much? Why are some adolescents exceeding healthy levels of gaming?

Policy recommendations for use of electronic media are two hours per day in the US, UK and Australia.  Parental monitoring methods are increasingly recognised as a significant factor. Many parents monitor ‘co-play’, partly to scrutinise content the child is exposed to. Children whose parents regularly monitor usage were less likely to go above two hours. Those whose parents were very controlling became defiant, pushing up usage, but many reported no parental input at all.

Children with mixed gender friend groups game for longer, an indicator of the increase in sociable group gaming. Early adolescents game longer than 15 year olds, a likely pointer to educational stage and development. Gender affects time spent gaming; boys are three times more likely than girls to spend over six hours gaming per week. Across both genders gaming provides an escape from stress; in boys from bullying and girls from discontentment.

Boys with higher levels reported frequent hunger at bedtime, which may be evidence of gaming interfering with meal times. The author concludes “gendered interventions may be necessary to address successfully those who are engaging in very high levels of gaming with the associated negative consequences to their overall well-being”.