Let’s face it: video games are fun! New games are amazing and the technology is quite impressive. Having family fun all while the kids are occupied all can be a positive thing, right? Yes, there are some positive sides to children and gaming. First, gaming introduces children to technology and can boost self-discipline. The games usually require the skill of following directions. They can provide practice with problem-solving and logic. Games can increase fine motor and coordination skills as well as provide occasions for adults and children to play together. They can also foster interest in information technology.
Unfortunately; however, there are many problems with “over involvement” or excessive involvement with playing video games. Social isolation can detract from the time children should spend on other important activities like reading and playing with friends. The very popular games feature plots based on anti-social themes, such as violence, irresponsible sex, gender bias and aggression.
But, are video games a problem? With a vast increase in child and adolescent gaming, males are much more likely to develop an addiction than females. Approximately one in eight gamers has developed a pattern of addiction. The Journal of Psychiatric Medicine found in an interactive poll that approximately 92 percent of kids ages 2 to 17 play video games regularly and 3 to 8.5 percent are classified as “addicted” to playing video games. (Journal of Psychiatric Medicine, 2008, Vol 165, No 3, pp 306-307)
Working with children, teens, young adults and families that are suffering from video-game addiction. I have a deep understanding of the causes, and more importantly, the solutions to these addictive behaviors that can help family members return to a healthier lifestyle free from the chains of this addiction.
Why can’t our children stop? There are built-in reward systems that are not just for fun, but for buying things and special rewards that lead to more addictive behaviors. The compelling nature of playing in the “virtual life” seems to be much more fulfilling than “real life.” There is a natural competition not only with others, but more importantly, with oneself when playing these games.
How much is too much? Although the actual amount of time spent on games is subjective, when one consumes hours of game time and it takes priority over such things as family time, homework, reading, peer interaction (not just Internet gaming with peers), and mealtime activities, there may be a serious problem developing. Loss of sleep, eating and nutritional disruption, academic decline, loss of motivation for other recreational activities, exercise and playtime can all suffer. Some children lose interest and drop out of healthy activities, such as sports, band, drama and other clubs to focus on more “game-time” out of fear of “missing out” on game activities and progress. Loss of friendships and even romantic interests has also been reported.
One tell-tale symptom of a video-game problem is the strong, over-exaggerated emotional (often anger) reaction you get when asking your family member to stop or discontinue the game, even for a brief moment. If it seems impossible to disturb or interrupt the gaming behavior without a disrespectful comment or “melt-down,” you may already be too late.
Video game addiction is not yet recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V, (it is listed as a provisional diagnosis), but it does share many of the symptoms of other addictions and is a rising concern.
Signs of video game addiction:
- Playing video games for three-five hours per sitting.
- Passing up activities that are normally enjoyed
- Neglecting work/school to play video games
- Getting restless or irritable if you can’t play the game
- Trying unsuccessfully to limit or stop game playing
If you’re wondering if your child may be showing signs of gaming addiction, ask yourself the following:
Does your child need to play online games with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve the desired excitement?
Are they preoccupied with gaming, like thinking about it when offline, anticipating their next online session?
Have they lied to friends and family members to conceal the extent of their online gaming?
Do they feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop online gaming?
Have they made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control or cut back or stop online gaming?
Do they use gaming as a way of escaping from problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression?
Have they jeopardized failing a class or losing a job or an educational opportunity, dropped out of a sport or activity because of their online gaming habit?
Are most non-school hours spent on the computer or playing video games?
Are they choosing to use the computer or play video games rather than going to see friends?
What are the psychological effects? Some individuals experience extreme feelings of restlessness and/or irritability when they are unable to play. There can be preoccupation with thoughts of previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session. Those addicted may lie to friends and family regarding video game use due to feelings of guilt, shame or social isolation). Some experience a depressed mood, anxiety, paranoia or develop severe overreactions and temper.
What are the short and long-term effects? Those with excessive gaming problems use poor judgment and decision-making, can incur financial debt, may resort to stealing, theft of services (e.g. use of parental credit card and account without permission) and develop trust issues from lying. A lack of motivation and loss of healthy goals, unrealistic expectations of goal direction and fatigue can develop. Sleep deprivation, aggressive behavior, lack of healthy nutrition/diet, peer and social isolation, and becoming devoid of “real-life” friends can greatly inhibit those affected. There can be a high financial commitment due to escalating costs of hardware/software needs, competition for better game needs and connectivity.
What treatment is available? Psychotherapy, specifically Cognitive-Behavioral therapy for addiction and behavioral treatments, has been successful in the treatment of addiction. Parent and family involvement and education is essential to the success and follow through of this problem.
What can you do? Firm up family rules! Who’s in charge?
- Stay informed on game content.
- Limit playing time! (Yes, you can do it!)
- No playing in the middle of the night (keep game systems and phones out of the bedroom)
- Homework and chores must be completed first! (Yes, kids and young adults can share responsibilities).
- Encourage non-gaming peer activities.
- Be clear with your child/adult that constant arguments about game playing will result in loss of game playing privileges.
- Professional help (therapy) may be needed.
If nothing seems to work, go “cold turkey.” Get rid of all the games!
Take back your family! I have coached many families back to health when “gaming addiction” has disrupted the harmony of the family. There are usually many reasons why these addictions begin and there are many ways to intervene. Encouraging family, peer and group interests and activities are essential for healthy family development.
Today’s technology can be both a blessing and a curse. It is up to us as parents to ensure that it does not get abused.