Health & Wellbeing

Lifestyle

Video games improve reading: but beware addiction

A new study looked at how Internet use and video games affected the NAPLAN results of over 1,700 adolescents from across Australia aged 11 to 17. It shows that playing video games improves reading and that Internet use on weekends improves reading and writing. But parents must watch out for signs of tech addiction, say researchers, and discourage excessive Internet use on weekdays.

The study was conducted by Md Irteja Islam and Associate Professor Rasheda Khanam at the University of Southern Queensland and Raaj Kishore Biswas at the Transport and Road Safety Research Centre at UNSW Sydney, based on data from the Telethon Institute’s Young Minds Matter survey.

PhD scholar Raaj Kishore Biswas at UNSW Sydney says the study challenges popular fears that digital technologies rot teens’ brains, but we shouldn’t turn our children over to ‘round-the-clock gaming and posting’ just yet.

“There’s a lot of talk about whether tech use is good or bad for students’ learning,” says Mr Biswas. “But our study shows that this is the wrong question. It’s really a matter of when, how, and how much young people are using technology.”

The study showed that, in moderation, playing video games on weekdays improved NAPLAN reading scores: students playing 1-2 hours a day were 13% more likely to get higher reading scores than those who didn’t play at all.

In contrast, Internet use on weekdays, especially when it went over 4 hours, appeared to damage reading and numeracy scores: students spending over 4 hours were 15% less likely to get higher reading scores and 17% less likely to get higher numeracy scores.

Yet using the Internet on weekends had a positive effect. Youth using the Internet for 2-4 hours a day on weekends were 21% more likely to do well than those who used it for less than 2 hours. This positive effect diminished to 15%, though, when they were on the Internet for longer than 4 hours.

“This difference between weekdays and the weekend may help solve a puzzle posed by previous studies,” said Mr Biswas. “Some have shown that recreational technology use benefits academic outcomes, other have shown it damages them. If we consider the difference timing makes, this may be less contradictory than it first appears.”

Aside from timing, said Mr Biswas, it was important for youth to have a healthy relationship with technology.

“Students with addictive tendencies to Internet-use and gaming were 17% less likely to score higher in reading and 14% less likely to score higher in numeracy,” he said.

He says these impacts were mainly because students would skip school, miss classes, or put less effort into homework because of their addiction. According to the study, girls were at slightly higher risk of Internet and gaming addiction than boys.

A student was considered to have addictive tendencies where they reported often doing four out of five of the following due to Internet use and game-play: avoiding eating and sleeping, spending less time with friends and family or doing school work, feeling bothered when they couldn’t access games or the Internet, continuing to use them even when they weren’t really interested, or unsuccessfully trying to spend less time playing games or using the Internet.

“The results of this study show that parental monitoring and/or self-regulation of timing and intensity of internet use and gaming are essential to prevent negative effects on academic performance.”

Md Irteja Islam, Raaj Kishore Biswas, & Rasheda Khanam. (2020). ‘Effect of internet use and electronic game-play on academic performance of Australian children’. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-78916-9

MCERA, an independent, not-for-profit organisation, provides a conduit through which education research and researchers are made more accessible to the media to help improve public understanding of key education-related issues. We provide journalists with expert, independent and accessible insights from education researchers and practitioners. Any views expressed by the experts we consult are not necessarily those of MCERA or its staff.

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