Are video games associated with depression in preadolescents?

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Written by Marie-Eve Dubios

Well, it sure sounds that way according to a recent study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center. While there is a wealth of research showing how exposure to violent video games leads to increases in aggressive behaviours, the study conducted by Dr. Susan Toladero and her colleagues (2014) was among the first to show that preadolescents who are exposed to violent video games for more than 2 hours per day are also at risk of becoming depressed.

Why would that be? There’s a few reasons for that, in my opinion. A big part of this is that spending more than two hours per day playing violent video games cuts into time for positive interactions with friends, which are crucial at that age. Indeed, social isolation is an important contributing in the vicious cycle that is depression. Once a person becomes socially isolated and spends long periods of time playing video games or engaging with social media, they are likely becoming increasingly sedentary…which is bad news since reduced sleep and lack of exercise also contribute to risk for depression.

What can be done, then, especially when talking about those video games is such a big part of a child’s social interactions?

  1. Placing limits on the number of hours of screen time, especially for violent games. Indeed, the same study showed that symptoms of depression were not increased when children played less than two hours of nonviolent games per day.
  2. Encouraging physical activity: not only does it keep us fit, but it makes our brain release endorphin’s, which make us happy.
  3. Encouraging interaction with peers outside of video games.

For most children and adolescents, these small tweaks will be sufficient to decrease their risk of depression. However, if you find yourself struggling with encouraging your child or teenager to make these changes, or if they experience more severe symptoms (decreased interest in activities, lack of pleasure, difficulties to concentrate, low energy and poor self-esteem), it may be best to look for professional help. Depression tends to have a chronic course, with more symptoms and recurring episodes only increasing the risk for future bouts of depression. Getting help early not only helps in reducing this risk, but also in giving children and teenagers the tools they need to take care of themselves.

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