Got a Teen Who Loves Gaming? It Turns Out Gaming Might Not Be as Bad as You Think

Research shows that gaming might not be as bad as parents think... providing limits are set

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Got a Teen Who Loves Gaming? It Turns Out Gaming Might Not Be as Bad as You Think

Written by: Marybeth Bock

Got a teenage boy or girl who loves gaming? How many times in the past week have you had to nag them to stop gaming and finish their homework, come to the dinner table, do a chore, or shut it down for the night and go to bed?

It turns out that 97% of American teens play video games at least an hour a day. And, for many of them, gaming is their escape, their chance to hang out with friends online, and their mode of relaxation. In fact, some research suggests that in moderation, gaming can prove beneficial to our teen’s mental well-being.

Still, if you’re a parent of an avid gamer, chances are your teen’s passion (or perhaps you’d consider it their obsession) with gaming has been a big point of contention between you and your teen. And, it’s easy to see why…

For years, we’ve been reading concerning articles about how our kids might become addicted to gaming, how much sleep they could be losing as a result of their excessive playtime, and even the unsettling possibility of our teens adopting aggressive behavior tendencies as a result of playing violent battle-type games.

How Parents Feel About Their Kids’ Gaming Habits:

The 2020 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked a sample of U.S. parents of teens 13-18 years old about the impact gaming had on their teens’ lives. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Most parents (86%) agreed or strongly agreed that their teen spends too much time playing video games. 
  • Parents also reported hugely different gaming patterns for teen boys versus girls. Twice as many parents say their teen boy plays video games every day compared to parents of teen girls (41% vs. 20%).
  • When they play video games, teen boys are more likely than girls to spend three or more hours gaming (37% vs 19%) and to play online against other gaming opponents (65% vs 31%.)
  • And, if you do find yourself repeatedly nagging your teen to turn off the gaming console, you are definitely not alone. According to the poll, parents say gaming sometimes or frequently gets in the way of other aspects of their teen’s life, including family activities (46%), sleep (44%), homework (34%), friendship with non-gaming peers (33%) and extracurricular activities (31%).
  • Parents whose teen plays every day also found that gaming has a negative effect on their teen’s mood compared to those who play less frequently (42% vs. 23%).

While all our worries about our kids’ gaming habits might be at the forefront of our minds, new research is shedding light on our teens’ favorite pastime that might help us all breathe a big sigh of relief.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, professor, and bestselling author, says that rumors of the dangers of video games are vastly exaggerated, and points out that playing video games is a form of exercise for the brain. 

In fact, he goes as far as saying that instead of telling kids not to play video games, adults should play, too. 

Grant shared recently on Twitter that an analysis of “101 research studies, involving 106,000 kids and teens concluded that video games have only a negligible impact on grades, depression, attention, and aggression. And a study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research showed only 3.1% of gamers demonstrated problematic behaviors—which are more likely symptoms of mental health issues than causes.”

Researchers continue to find brain benefits from video gaming.

As parents, we tend to focus on the negative aspects of all the time we think our teens are “wasting” while playing video games. But a new study sponsored by the National Institute of Health finds that gaming may help our kids with both cognitive ability and impulse control.

Research published in the October 2022 Journal JAMA Network Open, found that kids who played video games three or more hours a day performed better on tasks associated with memory and impulse control than kids who didn’t play video games at all.

The gamers also had higher levels of activity in parts of the brain associated with attention and memory function.

This large study didn’t distinguish between the types of video games that the kids played, but the lead author of the report, Bader Chaarani, Ph.D., noted that the majority of kids tended to play more fast-paced shooter and action-adventure games rather than slower-paced logic games like puzzles.

One takeaway from these findings may be that parents should consider opting for video games over passive television watching for their kids. Chaarani added, “Maybe video gaming is not worse than watching TV.”

However, gaming, like all other activities our teens do, should have reasonable limits. Just because research has unveiled some definite benefits of playing video games, we shouldn’t allow our teens to game as much as they want – even on weekends.

Sure, we might put to rest our greatest gaming concerns like links to aggression and depression, but we still have to keep in mind that every teen is different. While some kids can juggle responsibilities and gaming just fine, with others it can interfere with their sleep and have potentially negative implications when it comes to relationships and their ability to keep up with the demands of school and homework. 

“With appropriate boundaries and supervision, video games can be a fun way for teens to enjoy time with each other and for parents to connect with their kids,” says Jenny Radesky, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, and researcher at Mott Children’s Hospital.

To maximize the rewards of video gaming and avoid the pitfalls, Dr. Radesky offers these suggestions for families.

Got a Teen Who Loves Gaming? Keep These 5 Tips For Healthy Video Gaming in Mind

1. Set Reasonable Limits

Parents should create a “media plan” that dictates what hours a child can enjoy video games without affecting behavior and homework, Radesky says.

It’s particularly important to set clear expectations and limits about gaming during after-school hours, so that time for schoolwork, friends, chores, or conversation “doesn’t get elbowed out when the child’s preferred activity is video games.” 

2. Keep Tabs On The Content

Especially for younger teens, “Parents should say, ‘If you’re going to game, I want to see what you’re doing, and I want to have fun with you and talk about what you’re seeing so you can understand and process it,” Radesky says. If your teen loves violent games, check out Common Sense Media for suggestions on less violent alternatives.

3. Be On The Lookout For Trouble

Some teens are spending four to eight hours a day playing video games. That extreme amount of time is often tied to bigger problems. The excessive solo and sedentary behavior of gaming can impede sleep, academic performance, interpersonal skills, and unhealthy weight. If such issues arise, it’s time for your teen to scale back or pull the plug. If necessary, ask your pediatrician or family doctor for guidance.

4. Jump Into Their World and Game WITH Your Teen

Any opportunity we have to interact and have fun with our teens is one we should take. So, rather than harping on your teen for video gaming, jump into their world and game with them. It’s a chance for you and your teen to spend quality time together doing something they enjoy which can spark conversation and strengthen your connection. One parent said they created a weekly family gaming competition and it’s done wonders for her relationship with her teens.

5. Encourage Alternatives To Gaming

Some teens – such as those with attention issues – may be especially susceptible to the constant “frictionless” virtual feedback of video games, Dr. Radesky notes. This could lead to prolonged play with potentially negative impacts. If you’re concerned about your teen’s obsession with gaming, encourage other activities. She suggests things that could offer a similar sense of mastery, such as a computer coding club or camp, group sports, or music lessons.

Video games are a huge part of the world of entertainment today, and do provide some brain benefits, not to mention being a whole lot of fun for our teens. 

But parents and kids need to set reasonable limits and be mindful that time spent gaming shouldn’t be at the expense of face-to-face interaction with family, friends, and teachers – all of whom play a critical role in promoting a teen’s healthy social and intellectual development.

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.



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