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Do Video Games Cause Attention Problems in Kids?

Is your child having trouble paying attention in school? You may want to cut back on video games.

A new study suggests that video games are just as harmful to kids’ attention spans as watching TV, according to CNN/Health.com.

In fact, elementary school children who play video games more than two hours a day are 67 percent more likely than their fellow students to have more-than-average attention problems, according to the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Video games were “at least as strong as television at predicting attention problems,” says the lead author of the study, Edward Swing, a doctoral candidate in the department of psychology at Iowa State University.

But does that mean that video games cause attention problems? Or are kids with attention problems more likely to be drawn to video games and TV? Either scenario is possible, but unfortunately, the study didn’t answer that question.

 “It wouldn’t surprise me if children who have attention problems are attracted to these media, and that these media increase the attention problems,” said Swing. He and his colleague tracked over 1,300 children in the third, fourth, and fifth grades for a little over a year. They measured the amount of time the kids spent watching TV and playing video games and then assessed their attention spans by interviewing their teachers.

Earlier studies have studied the effect of TV or video games on attention problems, but not both. The researchers concluded that the two activities have a similar relationship to attention problems.

The obvious question is: why are some kids able to pay attention to video games and TV, but not school?

Some experts have suggested that fast-paced TV shows and video games make reading and arithmetic seem boring by comparison. Have we created a generation of adrenaline-junkies who expect instant gratification?

Swing and his colleagues didn’t differentiate among the types of games the kids were playing, so it’s unclear if that might make a difference when it comes to attention. Either way, Swing said, “there are implications that would lead us to want to reduce television and video games in childhood.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit all “screen time” (including video and computer games) to less than two hours per day.

But, in some cases, video games can actually help kids learn. Heather Chaplin recently reported about Quest to Learn, a game-based learning program, for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” One public school in New York City has taken the video game as its model for how to teach,” according to Chaplin. “Students use video games and design them as part of their classes.” The program is based on the idea that game-based learning is a significant element of modern literacy.

Chaplin told Strollerderby that “games actually encourage delayed gratification. Have you ever seen a kid win a videogame on the first go round? The persistence with which kids play and keep failing over and over and over until they get the quest right is remarkable.”

Maybe schools can learn a few things from video games. What do you think? Do video games sap kids’ attention spans or encourage them to experiment and persist?

Photo: flickr/babyparentingguide

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