Study finds perks of gaming for girls--if parent joins

Girls who play age-appropriate video games with a parent behave better and have stronger mental health scores, researchers say.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Daddy, be my guitar hero! The 5th Ape/Flickr

When researchers at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life decided to investigate the role parents play in gaming with their adolescent kids, they discovered a statistically significant gender divide.

For boys, gaming with a parent did not have much of an effect on positive behavior, aggression, family connection, and mental health. But for girls, gaming with a parent resulted in as much as a 20 percent variation on those outcomes--specifically, improving positive behavior, mental health, and family connections.

The team studied 287 families with adolescents ages 11 to 16; the boys played Call of Duty, Wii Sports, and Halo more than any other games, while the girls tended to choose Mario Kart, Mario Brothers, Wii Sports, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero.

The researchers conclude that, because girls fared better when playing with a parent versus not, the adult was the game-changer. But until the study subjects play the same games, the type of game shouldn't be ruled out as a possible contributing factor as well.

They suggest that one reason for the gender divide might be that boys spend far more time playing games with friends than girls do, therefore their social stats might not change much when playing with parents.

Their findings appear this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health. For now, they plan to investigate further, particularly exploring the basis of these gender differences.

In the meantime co-author Laura Padilla-Walker, who has a Ph.D. in analyzing statistical pathways and found in 2010 that sisters improve sibling mental health, says one thing is clear: "Any face-to-face time you have with your child can be a positive thing, especially if the activity is something the child is interested in."