By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – Most American parents think their teens spend too much time playing video games, but many of them also believe this is typical adolescent behavior, a U.S. study suggests.

A whopping 86% of parents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” their teens spend too much time gaming, according to a new report from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll.

About 41% of teen boys and 20% of adolescent girls play video games every day, the poll found.

More than half of parents with teens who played daily said their child spent at least three hours a day gaming. However, 78% of these parents also thought their teen was gaming about as much or less than other teens.

“Although many parents believe video games can be good for teens, they also report a number of negative impacts of prolonged gaming,” says Mott Poll co-director and Dr. Gary Freed.

“Parents should take a close look at their teen’s gaming behavior and set reasonable limits to reduce harmful impacts on sleep, family and peer relationships and school performance,” Freed said.

Video games are designed to encourage prolonged play among teens with features like rewards or feedback tied to playing times, Freed and colleagues note in the Mott Poll report. Some teens – particularly those with attention issues – may be especially susceptible to the constant positive feedback and stimulus of video games, researchers point out.

While 71% of parents believe video games may have a positive impact on their teen, many parents also reported that gaming interferes with other aspects of daily life.

Almost half of parents say gaming “sometimes” or “frequently” gets in the way of teens’ activities with family, and 46% of parents think gaming takes time away from sleep.

Roughly one third of parents believe teen gaming cuts down on homework time or interferes with time teens might otherwise spend with non-gaming peers. About 31% of parents said gaming eats into time for extracurricular activities.

In addition, 42% of parents with daily gamers reported that playing video games negatively impacted teens’ moods, compared to 32% of parents whose teens played less frequently.

While these results suggest that parents should set limits around gaming, they’re unlikely to get through to teens by simply calling this pursuit “mindless entertainment,” Freed said by email.

Many games are complex and challenging, and that’s often a big part of their appeal, Freed said. Some kids also believe the mental workout and knowledge they gain from their games justifies all the time they’ve invested, he added.

“Parents should monitor and set limits on their teens’ use of video games,” said Dr. Suzy Tomopoulos of NYU School of Medicine and Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone in New York City.

“They should encourage other activities with peers and family more likely to support social development and learning,” Tomopoulos, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Roughly 54% of parents said they tried to set time limits on gaming, and 44% said they tried to restrict games to avoid certain content like extremely graphic depictions of violence.

Three-fourths of parents tried to limit gaming just by encouraging other activities, while 23% rewarded teens to spend less time playing video games and 14% resorted to hiding the equipment.

Whatever approach parents take will probably work better if they collaborate with their teen to set limits, said Dr. David Hill of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

“Sit down with your child and explain your concerns, then listen to the child’s perspective and work together to find a solution that suits everyone’s needs,” Hill, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Parents may also want to pick their battles and focus just on strategies to ensure that gaming doesn’t get in the way of sleep, Hill advised.

“Many teens chronically fail to get the 8-9 hours of sleep they need to function optimally, and for some kids gaming time makes the difference,” Hill said.

SOURCE: University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll, online January 20, 2020.