Time spent gaming and psychiatric symptoms in childhood: cross-sectional associations and longitudinal effects

Abstract

There is sparse knowledge on how the amount of gaming overlaps with—and is longitudinally related to—psychiatric symptoms of ADHD and emotional problems throughout early and middle childhood. In this prospective study of 791 Norwegian children, we investigated the amount of electronic gaming at ages 6, 8, and 10 while also measuring DSM symptoms of such disorders. Cross-lagged longitudinal analyses showed that more ADHD symptoms at age 8 predicted more gaming at age 10, whereas gaming did not predict more psychiatric symptoms, controlled for gender and socio-economic status. Cross-sectional overlaps between gaming and symptoms were marginal but nonetheless increased with each age level. Hence, time spent gaming did not forecast more psychiatric problems at these ages, but children with more ADHD symptoms were more likely to increase their amount of gaming throughout middle childhood. Results indicate that the sheer amount of gaming is not harmful to children’s mental health, but that poorly regulated children become more attracted to games throughout childhood. Findings are discussed in light of the coexistence of problematic gaming and psychiatric problems reported among adolescents and adults, as well as the potential beneficial psychological outcomes from gaming.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by Grants 240097 and 228685/H10 from the Research Council of Norway. Thanks to all the families that are participating, and those who have participated, in the Trondheim Early Secure Study.

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Correspondence to Frode Stenseng.

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Stenseng, F., Hygen, B.W. & Wichstrøm, L. Time spent gaming and psychiatric symptoms in childhood: cross-sectional associations and longitudinal effects. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 29, 839–847 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-019-01398-2

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Keywords

  • ADHD
  • Internet gaming disorder
  • Cross-lagged analyses
  • Structural equation modeling
  • Community sample
  • Video games