Do video games make kids smarter? A new study says yes

It’s summer and your children’s school is closed. You would love to provide them with hours of enriching activities, but you also have a business to run. Sometimes they spend most of the day playing PlayStation or their favorite game app. How guilty and concerned do you have to be?

A major new study offers a surprising answer for parents. The analysis of nearly 10,000 children by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, recently published in Scientific Reports, found that not only should you not stress about your child’s Minecraft or Fortnite addiction, but you may even want to encourage it. .

The study found that those who played video games above average actually got a small IQ boost from all that screen time, although experts caution that parents shouldn’t go overboard in interpreting the results.

A counterintuitive finding about children and video games

The study looked at data logging of the TV, social media and video game use of 9,000 American children ages nine and 10 over the age of five. About 5,000 of the children had their IQ tested at the start of the study and after two years, which allowed the researchers to compare changes in intelligence with how much time they spent in front of screens.

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Conventional wisdom suggests that hours of gaming wouldn’t please kids in the intelligence department, but that’s not what this particular study found. The children who spent more time than average playing video games saw their IQ increase by 2.5 points more than the average over the two years. Time in front of TV and social media seemed to have no effect at all on intelligence.

“Our results support the claim that screen time generally does not impair children’s cognitive skills, and that playing video games may actually help increase intelligence,” said Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet.

Maybe hold off on buying that PlayStation

So should you run out and buy your kids a PlayStation because of this research (or just stop yelling at them to get rid of the one you already own)? Experts warn that while the study is interesting, the picture is more complicated than a simple endorsement of more gaming for children in this age group.

First, the study looks at intelligence, but not at other measures of well-being. Hours for video games can very easily raise IQ a bit at the expense of a good night’s sleep or a healthier relationship with peers. This research just can’t tell. “We haven’t examined the effects of screen behavior on physical activity, sleep, well-being or school performance, so we can’t say anything about that,” says Klingberg.

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Second, experts emphasize that when parents think about the fraught question of how much screen time is too much, they should consider what is displacing that screen time. If your child quits Little League because of her gaming addiction, it’s a very different situation from reaching for her phone during dead periods of her day.

“I’ve said this many times before, but I have to reiterate that probably the biggest consideration with screen time is simply what else a person could do (more here). ‘Does video game play good or bad?’ is ill-defined without clearly saying what someone else would do with those hours or two,” writes economist and author of the data-driven parenting book The Family Firm Emily Oster in her excellent ParentData newsletter. (She also asks interesting methodological questions about the study if you’re interested.)

The bottom line for Oster, and for other experts, is that parents shouldn’t see this survey as a definitive answer to their nagging questions about screen time. In fact, they should stop expecting an investigation to provide definitive answers. The question is simply too complex and personal.

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“Many of these choices will have to be made by relying on what we think will work well for our family and, frankly, relying on our gut. Without much help from the data. Sometimes that’s just the reality,” concludes Oster. .

“If any form of screen time appears to have a positive effect on a young person’s well-being, parents should remain open and curious about it, just as if they are beginning to notice that there is a harmful effect of some screen time on their child,” she said. child psychiatrist Anish Dube WebMD in connection with the study.

So consider this research as a reason not to panic if your kids are playing their fourth hour of video games on a long summer day. There’s no hard evidence that video games are rotting their brains (and maybe even doing them cognitively well). But don’t take it as a blank check to never think about the problem again. As of right now, science can’t replace parents’ common sense when it comes to kids and screen time.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

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