Family fun videogames a benefit for daughters and parents (Coyne et al., 2011)

This study got a lot of news coverage, although I didn’t bother reading them since I waited for the online article. A six-page paper by Sarah Coyne, Laura Padilla-Walker and others (Brigham Young University) in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The first two authors have published some videogame related articles. One of which was blogged two years ago. This is intriguing to see what kind of direction they’ll be examining videogames.


Purpose: Video game use has been associated with several behavioral and health outcomes for adolescents.The aim of the current study was to assess the relationship between parental co-play of video games and behavioral and family outcomes.

Method: Participants consisted of 287 adolescents and their parents who completed a number of video game-, behavioral-, and family-related questionnaires as part of a wider study. Most constructs included child, mother, and father reports.

Results: At the bivariate level, time spent playing video games was associated with several negative outcomes, including heightened internalizing and aggressive behavior and lowered prosocial behavior. However, co-playing video games with parents was associated with decreased levels of internalizing and aggressive behaviors, and heightened prosocial behavior for girls only. Co-playing video games was also marginally related to parent–child connectedness for girls, even after controlling for age-inappropriate games played with parents.

Conclusions: This is the first study to show positive associations for co-playing video games between girls and their parents.

Judging by the Kotaku post, it seemed he had access to the full-text article. But, I’m sceptical of this study. See press release.

A bit of literature review, co-playing, the act of parents playing with their children has received little attention. Given the paucity of co-playing, they checked out the closest concept which is co-viewing, Amy Nathanson (Ohio State University) has done extensive research on that topic. The general gist of co-viewing research is that parental mediating behaviours can attenuate or worse the media violence effects. Specifically, co-viewing with their children during violent shows, children are more likely to be aggressive because of the implicit acceptance of the violent content. Logically, co-playing might produce the same pathways as co-viewing.

I’ve considered that line of research with Amy Nathanson. But right now, it’s on the backburner and I’m concerned on a different project. Something with psychophysiology.


Participants: 287 adolescents who were part of a longitudinal project. Average age is 13.26 (SD = 1.05) and the age range is between 11-16 years old. Gender ratio is 65% male, 35% female. The participants were selected in the analyses only if they played videogames. Family composition reads as 106 single parents and 190 two-parent structure. Ethnicity reads as 67% Caucasian, followed by African-American at 12%.


Game play: adolescents were asked what videogames they typically play with their parents. These games were coded as either age-appropriate or age-inappropriate. They also reported play time on a 9-point time scale. I find their coding decision rather unusual, making a dichotomy variable… I wonder if recoding them to an ordinal scale, like the ESRB rating might produce different results…

Co-playing: one item, “how often do you play videogames with your parent?” answered on a 6-point frequency scale. Unfortunately, they did not ask with whom?

Internalizing and delinquency: They measured for anxiety/depression and delinquency through 22 items. This is reported by the adolescents, mothers and fathers. Yay! Multi-reporting, this would really increase the validity of a measurement.

Aggression: Items from the self-restraint subscale of Weinberger et al. measure (I’ll have to look into it later). 5 items on a 5-point description scale. Again, multi-reports from mother, fathers and adolescents.

Prosocial behaviours: adapted from the Kindness and Generosity subscale of the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths. 9 items answered on 5-point description scale. Multi-reports from mothers, fathers and adolescents.

Parent-child connection: The warmth/connection subscale from the Parenting Styles and Dimensions Questionnaire. No number of items given, but the response scale is a 5-point frequency scale. Multi-reports from the three.


Something that both Gamepolitics and Kotaku had picked is that girls with parents’ top three videogames are Mario Kart, Wii Sports, and Rock Band/Guitar Hero. This is in contrast with boys’ with parents top three videogames are Call of Duty, Wii Sports, and Halo series. Another contrast is the gender difference in videogame play, boys play much longer than girls, a given demographical statistic.

Half of the adolescents reported playing videogames with their parents to some degree… below the half-way point of the scale, so around on average “rarely”? The blog posts kept mentioning dads getting the best out with their daughters, but I must disagree given the results showing no significant differences between mothers and fathers in any of the variables. The authors noted that they were unable to figure out which parent(s) play with the adolescents most of the time. They reasoned that the parent’s gender may have a significant role, IMO I’d like to add videogame knowledge, parental knowledge and gaming etiquette as well.

Beyond the correlations, the authors analysed the data through structural modeling or something like that. So, co-playing for boys wasn’t significant with any of the outcome measures. As for girls, co-playing is associated with lower internalizing problems, aggression, higher prosocial behaviours, and parent-child connection. However, when age-inappropriate videogames was entered for girls, they become significantly associated with higher levels of internalizing problems, and lower levels of parent-child connection.

An aside, the correlation between aggression, delinquency, prosocial behaviours are unrelated with age-inappropriate videogames.


So, the take-home message was that prosocial/neutral videogames, such as Guitar Hero and Wii Sports, are beneficial to girls who play with their parents. This is because it represent quality time between daughters and parents. However, this does not mean that girls who played M-rated videogames get the benefits, quite the opposite I’m afraid. I do hope that readers are aware of the asterisks in the study that parents can’t claim that playing violent videogames with their daughters is going to help deal with their internalizing problems (i.e. anxiety and depression), nor are they going to have a more intimate relationship. The authors reasoned that the age-inappropriate videogames may interfere with conversation because of the very intense action going on. I vaguely recall that there were some studies reported similar results in that girl gamers reported higher internalizing problems than non-gamer girls.

The authors speculated why the relationships did not happened with boys. First, boys were playing much longer than girls. Given that parents reported spending an equal amount of time with their children, this makes parent interaction during gaming with boys a smaller fraction than girls’ play time. Therefore, the effects might be smaller or rendered insignificant. Another argument posited by the authors is that co-playing may not be the right strategy and other parental mediating behaviours might be more effective, like restrictive (i.e. limiting play time) or active (i.e. talking about the game and what’s wrong with it).

Some limitations of the study the authors reported. It is correlational, so causal relationships cannot be established. Second, IMO many of the outcome variables are concerned to the family environment. Therefore, the study cannot say what goes on beyond the family household, such as schools. I observed a third limitation is that the sample consisted of adolescents who reported playing videogames, no comparative data was made with the non-gaming sample or perhaps the whole sample in their longitudinal project. This makes me wonder if gaming for girls have any benefits beyond non-gaming girls. Even if the girls do seem to benefit the play time with gaming, does that really go the gamer girls proper (i.e. does who are involved in gamer culture). My judgment of this study is that hardcore gaming for girls is detrimental (okay, that’s huge leap) or at least non-beneficial.

Well here’s a little parent-child bonding over a game of Starcraft 2.

Coyne, S. M., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Stockdale, L., & Day, R. D. (2011). Game On… Girls: Associations Between Co-playing Video Games and Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health . Doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.11.249


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