SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Many preteens are eagerly waiting to open their new PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch wrapped under the Christmas tree. Researchers with UC San Francisco, however, are cautioning parents about the psychological impacts of screen time — especially video gaming — on children’s brains.
A two-year study released by UC San Francisco on Monday found that the odds of preteens developing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder increased by 13 percent for every hour they played videos games daily, and 11 percent for every hour they watched videos.
“Children who spend excessive time playing video games report feeling the need to play more and more and being unable to stop despite trying,” said Jason Nagata, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at UCSF. “Intrusive thoughts about video game content could develop into obsessions or compulsions.”
More than 9,000 children ages 9-10 participated in the study, published Monday in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Watching videos, too, can allow for compulsive viewing of similar content. Algorithms and advertisements further exacerbate that behavior, Nagata said.
Use of screens for educational purposes was excluded from the study.
OCD is a mental health condition involving recurrent and unwanted thoughts as well as repetitive behaviors that a person feels driven to perform. These intrusive thoughts and behaviors can become severely disruptive. OCD can have long-lasting effects on adolescent development that extend into adulthood such as social isolation, researchers said.
“Screen addictions are associated with compulsivity and loss of behavioral control, which are core symptoms of OCD,” Nagata said.
Researchers asked 9,204 preteens ages 9-10 years how much time they spent on different types of platforms; the average was 3.9 hours per day. Two years later, the researchers asked their caregivers about OCD symptoms and diagnoses.
At the two-year mark, 4.4% of preteens had developed new-onset OCD. Video games and streaming videos were each connected to higher risk of developing OCD.
Digital technology has become more integrated in the lives of adolescents than ever before, researchers noted.
“Parents should be aware of the potential risks, especially to mental health,” said Nagata. “Families can develop a media use plan which could include screen-free times including before bedtime.”