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TV and Video Gaming During Weekdays
Does Harm Student Performance

Parents eager to get their kids away from the TV screen and on to their homework after school will be happy to hear that a new study supports their contention. Middle school kids who watch TV or play video games on school nights do, in fact, do worse in school, the Pediatrics study found.

video games

Kids who watch TV or play video games on school nights have lower school performance than kids who do not.

"On weekdays, the more they watched, the worse they did," said study co-author Dr. Iman Sharif of Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx.

Watching R-rated movies also had a negative impact on school performance, and boys were especially affected.

"This study should hammer home to parents that this is really serious," said Douglas Gentile, a researcher at Iowa State University. "One question all parents are going to be faced with [from their kids] is, 'Can I have a TV in my bedroom?' There's a simple two-letter answer for that."

Interestingly, however, the finding did not hold true for watching TV or playing video games on the weekends, unless they were done for more than four hours each day.

"They could watch a lot on weekends and it didn't seem to correlate with doing worse in school," Sharif said.

Mixed messages such as this are common to the TV/video game debate, which has camps on both sides, supporting and protesting kids use of TV and video games.

The Downsides of TV and Video Games

Chief among the complaints parents often have with TV and video games has to do with the violence. Video games are often violent, including graphic depictions of sex and/or brutality.

Studies have, in fact, found that violent video games lead to violence among the players. In one study of 13 males aged 18 to 26, 11 showed significant effects after playing a mature-rated game.

"Violent video games frequently have been criticized for enhancing aggressive reactions such as aggressive cognitions, aggressive affects or aggressive behavior. On a neurobiological level we have shown the link exists," said researcher René Weber, assistant professor of communication and telecommunication at Michigan State University (MSU).

Aside from the violence, too much TV watching among children has been linked to:

  • Bullying

  • Obesity

  • Delayed onset of speech

  • Sleep problems

One study even found that kids who have TVs in their bedrooms scored about eight points lower on math and language arts tests than children without TVs in their rooms.

Benefits of TV and Video Games

video games

While some studies have shown that video games are linked to violent behavior among kids, others have found that the games help kids develop important problem-solving skills.

Before you throw out your TV altogether, it's worth mentioning that there are studies in support of the media, which suggest TV and video games can help kids learn, become smarter and even cope with cancer.

"All these things that that have long been assumed to be rotting our brains, there might be this hidden benefit," said Steven Johnson, author of the controversial book, "Everything Bad is Good for You."

According to one survey of close to 1,000 British teachers, educators believe video games may improve students' computer skills, strategic thinking and problem solving.

"The study has shown that commercial computer games have the potential to support education, which has raised the bar for ongoing collaboration between the industry and education sectors," said Jules Clarkson, international marketing director at U.S. games firm Electronic Arts (EA).

Part of the benefit of video games is that they require children to use problem-solving skills.

"You have to manage multiple objectives at the same time," Johnson said. "You have to manage all these different resources, and you have to make decisions every second of the game ... They're out learning how to think in ways that will be absolutely useful to them when they go out in the world and do the same kind of thinking in an office."

One example was a study by the University of Rochester in which participants had to count squares that were flashed on a screen for a 20th of a second. Those who played video games picked the right number 13 percent more often than non-players, suggesting that video games may make people more perceptive and able to analyze things faster.

"They [Gamers] have to discover the rules of the game and how to think strategically," said James Paul Gee, a University of Wisconsin-Madison curriculum and instruction professor. "Like any problem solving that is good for your head, it makes you smarter."

New interactive "serious" video games may also help children cope with serious illnesses like cancer.

"The secret to interactive video games designed to improve young people's health behaviors is that patients identify with the character, are part of the story where you have a life threat but you can do something about it," said Debra Liebermann, who helped create the game "Click Health," whose theme revolves around an asthmatic dinosaur.

So what's a parent to do when faced with a child begging to watch TV and play video games? A "happy medium" is probably best, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends limiting screen time for older children to no more than one or two hours a day of "quality" (educational, non-violent) programming -- and keeping TVs out of kids' bedrooms.

As for younger kids, the AAP does not recommend children ages 2 and younger watch any TV.

Recommended Reading

9 Key Reasons for You and Your Family to Kill Your Television

Violent Video Games: Do They Lead to Aggressive Behavior or Not?


Pediatrics October 2006, Vol. 118 No. 4, pp. e1061-e1070

USA Today October 2, 2006

ABC News: Do Video Games Make Kids Smarter?

999 Today October 3, 2006

Video Games Help Kids Cope With Cancer

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