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Frequency of Computer and Electronic Game Use Associated with Teens' Reading Skills and Grades

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Teens who use computers more frequently than their peers, whether for schoolwork or recreationally, report higher reading grade levels but lower math grade levels. And teens who play electronic games on handheld game devices (including cell phones), computers or game consoles with greater frequency than their peers also report lower grades.

These are among the findings of a recent study on adolescent computer and electronic game use authored by Weill Cornell Medical College Assistant Professor of Public Health Dr. Jennifer Epstein and published in the journal International Scholarly Research Public Health.

"Given these findings, parents of adolescents who spend significant time on the computer or playing video games might consider having their teens spend more time on their homework and studying," said Dr. Epstein. "However, the results would seem to imply that somehow adolescents are picking up skills that are related to reading while doing schoolwork, and even while they surf the web or keep in touch with their friends."

In the current study, Dr. Epstein conducted an online anonymous survey of more than 200 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 about their computer and electronic game use and a variety of other factors, including their academic performance and health. Teens self-reported their responses to survey questions.

Highlights of the findings include the following:

  • Boys use computers recreationally and played computer and video games significantly longer than girls, though there is no gender difference in handheld devices, such as cell phones which have game apps.
  • Students who reported lower grades overall played computer games significantly more than students who reported higher grades.
  • Teens with higher body mass indexes played online games significantly longer than those with lower body mass indexes.
  • Whether they use computers, handheld devices or game consoles, teens using these devices more frequently reported body pains relative to their peers who used the devices less frequently.
  • Teens who drank alcohol in the past month spent more time on the computer for non-schoolwork-related activities. Moreover, teens who recently smoked cigarettes were more likely to spend a greater amount of time on game consoles. This implies that some teens experimenting with alcohol or cigarette smoking may have a tendency to engage in these two recreational activities more than their non-experimenting peers.
While the study could not draw conclusions about causality and is preliminary in nature, Dr. Epstein's paper is among the first to look at the topic, and it provides some insight to parents and educators.

"When necessary, parents can help set limits on some of these activities and warn their children about possible negative effects, as well as encouraging them to use the computer for school and other positive projects," Dr. Epstein said.

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