Health Update: What Every Mom Needs to Know About Video Games

Just how bad is your kid's go-to after-school activity? Here, a new study's surprising findings.

You cook homemade meals at least a few nights a week, never (well, hardly ever) miss a school play, and are first in line to grab your kid the newest Harry Potter, but you still feel a twinge of bad-mommy guilt when you see him parked in front of the PlayStation night after night. Don't worry. While video games may not top any amazing-activities-for-the-kids lists, a new study from the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reveals that they may not be as bad as you think:

  1. Your kid's probably not an addict. "Everyone assumes that kids are using them all the time, but that's just not true," says study author Elizabeth A. Vandewater, PhD, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. In this study of nearly 1,500 students ages 10-19, only 36 percent of kids played at all. And of those who did, they only did so for about an hour on weekdays -- about one-third the time the average teen spends tuned in to TV.
  2. He's still squeezing in time for soccer. Researchers found that both gamers and non-gamers spent comparable amounts of time engaging in physical activities and after-school sports, as well as with family and friends. "This dispels the idea that video games make children socially isolated or less active," says Vandewater.
  3. Don't assume grades will plummet. The study found that gamers did spend about 30 percent less time hitting the books than those who don't play -- "a warning, sure -- but not a definite predictor of school struggles," she says. In fact, past research has shown that head-of-the-class types tend to zip through their homework faster than other students, so your mini gamer may just be efficient at tackling his assignments more quickly, explains Vandewater.

Bottom line: As long as your child has a balanced social life and report card results stay steady, playing up to an hour a night is probably not doing any harm, Vandewater believes. When in doubt, just follow Parenting 101, she says. "It sounds like common sense, but make sure your child does his homework, chores, and anything else important first -- and treat the games as a reward rather than a right."

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