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Teen Video Gaming And Health: Boys Differ From Girls, Study Finds

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If you want to start an online fight, suggest that playing video games might be bad for kids. You'll be flooded by commenters who declare, "I've played for hours a day and there's nothing wrong with me!"

Or suggest that video games might not be bad for kids. You'll be flooded by commenters pointing out that the link between violent games and aggressive behavior is one of the most replicated findings in social science.

So here’s the latest data point to add fuel to the fight. The respected journal Pediatrics reports that a Yale study of more than 4,000 adolescents found that the majority of them played video games and that the health effects appeared to differ by gender: In boys, video gaming generally correlated with no negative health effects, and even seemed linked to less smoking. In girls, however, gaming generally correlated with fighting at school, and bringing in weapons. (Girls bringing weapons to school? Is this the Lara Croft effect?)

Pediatrics reports here that in a small subset, gaming did appear linked to problems:

Although most adolescents appear to be gaming without any ill effects, in a small proportion the behavior becomes problematic, notes Desai. Of those surveyed, 4.9% reported that they had trouble cutting back on their gaming, felt an irresistible urge to play, or experienced tension that could only be relieved by playing. Boys were more likely to report problems (5.8%) than girls (3.0%). In this group, problematic gaming was linked to regular cigarette smoking, drug use, depression and serious fights in both boys and girls.

"The results suggest that in general recreational gaming is relatively harmless, particularly in boys. This is in contrast to many previously publicized reports suggesting that gaming leads to aggression" said Desai. "However, the gender differences observed between gamers and non-gamers suggest that girls may be gaming for different reasons than boys."

Desai said the prevalence of problematic gaming is low, but not insignificant. She added that more research is needed to define safe levels of gaming, refine the definition of problematic gaming, and evaluate effective prevention and intervention strategies.

This program aired on November 16, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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