Study: Video games do not cause social isolation in children, but kids use them to cope

30 April 2019

A team of researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), NTNU Social Research, University of California Davis and St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway conducted a study on how video games affect a child's social development.

The team found that video games are not the cause of some adolescent social issues. Rather, the reason a child spends his or her time playing video games, like social isolation from peers, is more relevant. Social isolation could be the result of bullying, problems at home or problems at school. When children feel isolated from their peers, they may turn to video games.

Video games fill a child’s need to belong and desire to master tasks. Video games are also less complicated than human relationships and they provide faux-social interaction. Children who struggle socially are more likely to turn to video games for entertainment.

The results showed that gaming doesn’t affect a boy’s social development, but does have an effect on a girl’s social development. Girls who played more video games than their peers at age 10 developed weaker social skills by age 12.

The team had a few prominent variables in its research. Gender was one of those. Outside of the study, boys typically spend more time playing video games than girls, and boys are more likely to have lower levels of social confidence. Socioeconomic status also affects a child's exposure to video games and disadvantaged children have a greater risk of social problems. Finally, children with higher BMIs tend to spend more time gaming and are more likely to have social competence issues.

The team interviewed 873 Norwegian children from various socioeconomic backgrounds every two years for six years. At ages six and eight, parents reported their children's video gaming habits; at ages 10 and 12, the children self-reported how much time they spent gaming. The children were also asked to report how much time they spent gaming with friends, as gameplay with friends provides children with more opportunities to practice social skills. Teachers were asked to complete questionnaires on the subject's social competence and measure cooperation, assertion and self-control.

The study was published in Child Development.

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