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Video games: One of five reasons why boys are failing

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Why are boys falling behind in school? Kate Hammer takes a look at video games, the education system, the boy code, developmental differences and a lack of role models in search of answers.

When Robert Weis and his colleagues decided to investigate whether owning a video gaming system hurt academic performance, they knew early on that their work would focus on boys.

"We were afraid that if we bought a video game system for girls and we gave them this system they simply wouldn't play it very much," said Mr. Weis, an assistant professor at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

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There was no such concern with male test subjects, as research has shown that boys are particularly susceptible to the allure of digital games, and many are becoming addicted. This is especially problematic as the modern child struggles with a time crunch of extracurricular activities that leave less and less time for homework.

Mr. Weis's study, which was published this spring, found that boys aged 6 to 9 who owned a video-gaming system at home spent less time doing homework, reading for fun or being read to by their parents. After barely five months, their scores on reading and writing assessments were significantly lower than those of the boys who didn't own a console.

"There's something about the competitiveness and aggressiveness of games that is appealing to boys," said Mr. Weis. "... Boys have a limited amount of time after school and they have to spend this time doing a wide range of things. The more time they spend on playing video games the less time they have for doing other things, like spending time with family, playing non-video games and doing academic-type activities as well."

There's mountains of research to demonstrate that video-game players are more likely to struggle in school, but Mr. Weis's study contributes to growing evidence that the games can directly cause boys to fall behind. It's of particular concern because video games are like catnip to many young men. A 2007 Harris poll found that teenage boys in the United States spend an average of 18 hours a week playing video games - girls spend about eight. And a study published in a recent issue of Psychological Science found that one in 10 youths who play video games mirror the behaviour of addicts - lying to parents, skipping chores and stealing money to support their gaming habit.

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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