If you can’t get the video-game controller out of your teenager’s hands, just pick up the other one. According to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, gaming may be good for teen girls’ mental health — so long as they play with their parents.
Although most past research has consistently shown that video games can be detrimental to teens’ mental well-being, the new study of 287 families by researchers from Brigham Young University suggests that the nature of play makes a difference. Researchers found that girls aged 11 to 16 who played video games with a parent reported better behavior, more feelings of familial closeness and less aggression than girls who played alone or with friends. (More on Time.com: Memo to Gamer-Wives: You Can’t Take it with You)
“It’s the face-to-face time, the interaction, that matters,” lead author and psychology professor Sarah Coyne told the Wall Street Journal. “Video games are kind of an adolescent thing. When a parent says I’m going to sit down and do what you’re going to do, that sends a different message entirely.”
However, the study found that while both boys and girls spent an equal amount of time gaming with a parent, boys didn’t reap the same behavioral or mental benefits. The authors theorized that because boys play more video games than girls overall, any time spent playing with a parent likely accounted for a smaller, less meaningful percentage of their overall screen time.
Girls and boys also favored different kinds of games. Boys tended to enjoy competitive, often aggressive games like Call of Duty and Halo, while girls preferred inclusive, collaborative games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero and Mario Kart. (Chances are, those are the games favored by parents too — who wants to shoot their own kid?) Less competitive, more leisurely games that don’t involve, say, gang wars probably foster more conversation during play. (More on Time.com: ‘i-Dosing’: Can You Download a Drug High?)
Indeed, researchers found that the association between gaming and behavior held only when the games were age appropriate. More sophisticated, rated “M” for mature games may be too intense and require too much focus on the screen, prohibiting conversation and bonding, the authors said.
The findings may be welcome news, especially to Dad, whose participation may be key. “We’re guessing it’s a daddy-daughter thing, because not a lot of moms said yes when we asked them if they played video games,” said co-author Laura Padilla-Walker in a statement. “Co-playing is probably an indicator of larger levels of involvement.”
Here’s a tip for parents who want to get in on the action: the study found that Wii Sports was popular with teens of both genders, so perhaps its time to bone up on your virtual bowling.