“Less is more” is often the prevailing advice when it comes to children and screen time. But a new study says that boys who regularly play video games may actually benefit from them, as they are less likely to develop symptoms of depression later on.
The report, published in Psychological Medicine, revealed that boys—particularly those at age 11—who played video games at least once a month had lower depression scores three years later.
This benefit, however, only extended to boys. In fact, the researchers found that girls with more screen time on social media are more likely to develop symptoms of depression afterward. The contrast in results, they added, shows how screen time impacts boys and girls differently. It also highlighted the impact that screen times have on young people’s mental health.
“Screens allow us to engage in a wide range of activities,” explained lead author Aaron Kandola of University College London.
“Guidelines and recommendations about screen time should be based on our understanding of how these different activities might influence mental health and whether that influence is meaningful.”
Making sense of screen time and its impact
It’s worth noting that the team didn’t say that video games are harmful, at least for their study. They said that while their report did not find a link between video games and mental health, they can still help young people.
These days, in particular, young people have been using video games not only as a source of entertainment but also as an important social platform. They did stress that how young people played video games should be addressed to improve both their physical and mental health. (Read: It’s time to talk about tech and mental health in the time of COVID-19)
Kandola and his team have previously looked into how sedentary behavior is linked to depression and anxiety. They found that people with sedentary behavior were more likely to develop depression symptoms upon reaching 18.
For this report, the team investigated the link between screen time and depressive symptoms. They did it to understand the factors that directly affect sedentary behavior and screen time in young people. The team looked at data from over 11,000 adolescents who were part of the Millennium Cohort Study, a nationwide sample of young people born in the U.K. between 2000 and 2002.
The participants answered questions regarding their time spent on social media, video games and internet use at age 11. They were also asked to respond about the consequences of depression—including depressed mood, satisfaction deprivation and weak concentration at age 14. They also looked at other factors such as economic conditions to understand the link between depression and screen time.
Playing video games may make children happy
Boys who regularly played video games had 24% lower depression rates than those who did it less often. The result, in particular, was more significant for boys with a poor degree of physical exercise—an indication of the benefits of video games coupled with social interaction.
Despite the benefits, the team warned against making a causal relationship between screen time and mental health.
“The relationship between the screening period and the mental wellbeing is complicated, and we will need to investigate to clarify this,” co-author Mats Hallgren adds. “Any efforts to minimize the screen time of teenagers must be tailored and shaped. Our analysis points to potential benefits of the time on screens.”
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