Do video games make girls healthier and happier? A brand-new study out of Brigham Young University's School of Family Life suggests they do, as long as parents are willing to play along.
The Brigham Young study, authored by Sarah M. Coyne, Ph.D., distributed questionnaires to 287 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 16 and their parents, polling them on a number of video game, behavioral, and family-related issues, with the aim to study the relationship between child behavior and parental co-play of video games. They wanted to see what effect playing video games with parents had on children.
It's a valid question. Parents are often called out for allowing children to be babysit by television and video games. If we're going to suggest parents get more involved with their offspring's video game playing, then we should study the effects playing together has on a child.
So the researchers asked their questions, measuring their outcomes against factors like positive behavior, aggression, family connection, and mental health. Did playing video games with a parent have any effect on these factors?
For boys the answer is no. For girls, a definite yes.
Researchers found that girls that played video games with their parents (mainly their fathers - not many mothers questioned admitted they played video games) were better behaved, felt more connected to their families, felt less aggressive, and demonstrated decreased levels of internalizing, which can lead to depression.
In short, playing video games with your daughter can make her a happier, more well-adjusted person. Why? Here's one possible answer from the study "Game On. . . Girls: Associations Between Co-playing Video Games and
Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes", published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
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.
Boys, on the other hand, saw none of these positive effects, a fact that researchers suggest might be due to boys playing games much more than girls do, often with their friends.
"The surprising part about this for me is that girls don't play video games as much as boys," Coyne said. "But they did spend about the same amount of time co-playing with a parent as boys did."
Another suggestion, and one that should make any daughter's father feel all warm and fuzzy, comes from the study's co-author Laura M. Padilla-Walker.
"We're guessing it's a daddy-daughter thing, because not a lot of moms said yes when we asked them if they played video games," Padilla-Walker said. "Co-playing is probably an indicator of larger levels of involvement."
It bears noting that the positive effects on adolescent females were only produced when parents and children were playing age appropriate games. Mario Kart, Mario Brothers, Wii Sports, Rock Band and Guitar Hero were the top games played by girls, none of which are anywhere near as violent as Call of Duty or Halo, two of the boys' top titles.
As an expectant father (of twins, no less) this news is quite heartening. Video games are a huge aspect of my life, and I was a little worried about how my children would be affected by their father's peculiar profession. Now I'm not so worried about recruiting my womb-fresh offspring as the third and fourth members of the Fahey family Rock Band.
Game On. . . Girls: Associations Between Co-playing Video Games and Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes [The Journal Of Adolescent Health]