It’s great to have hobbies, but hobbies such as video games seem to be creeping into some dangerous territory for many parents these days. Many parents, especially after lockdown days, have been seeing an increase in screen time, and have been asking themselves about video game addiction, how much it too much? It’s difficult for parents to know when a harmless hobby is no longer harmless. How much is too much and can gaming become an addiction?
Recently, on a Facebook moms’ group, the question was raised, how do I know if my son is addicted to video games, the comments came flooding in. This is a concern in many families. It’s difficult to know when your child is crossing into the area of no longer controlling themselves or whether they enjoy the game.
During pandemic days, screen time has significantly increased. However, with families spending so much time together, sometimes the break from the kids was welcomed, so parents let the extra time slide.
It also has some parents asking, is there such an addiction? How concerning is this, and what warning signs do I need to look for?
Is there such a thing as a video game addiction?
The answer isn’t straightforward. With mental health, there are two ways to get an official diagnosis status. Different organizations have given gaming different designations. In 2018, the World Health Organization listed “gaming addiction” in the International Classification of Diseases. The DSM-5 has not made that distinction. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) only specifies online gambling and not gaming as the only non-substance addiction. However, it has been included in the appendix of potential addictions and is being reviewed as a probable new diagnosis, especially as further studies show the potential harm.
The Benefits of gaming:
It’s only fair to mention that on both sides of the coin, there are benefits of gaming. Gaming can bring people together; it can provide a way for kids to play with one another in a fun pastime. Depending on the game, kids may have to work together to show teamwork to reach success. Video games can provide enhanced visual perception and an improved ability to multi-task and make quick decisions. For some kids who may struggle socially, mastering a video game can give a great sense of confidence that they don’t feel in their regular lives.
The negative effects of gaming, what we know for sure
Although it may not be included in the DSM-5 yet, we know the effects video games have on developing young people. Many studies show the impact that extended playing has on a developing brain and the long-term damage that those changes can have.
It’s important to remember that playing video games themselves is not unhealthy; it’s the amount of time spent playing that can be unhealthy.
Here’s how it happens:
Studies show that playing a game activates the brain’s reward structure by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. (One study showed that the amount of dopamine released was similar to an intravenous injection of various stimulant drugs). The brain is wired for instant gratification and unpredictability, and the release of dopamine provides that.
As the brain is being stimulated by the game, the dopamine is being released (but only temporarily) providing the gamer a rush of good feelings, but only temporarily. As the brain releases this neurotransmitter when playing, the brain gets the message that it has enough, and stops producing it naturally.
What should we look for? What are some of the signs that our kids may be playing too much?
- Sore joints and ligaments (carpel tunnel, “players thumb” etc)
Behavioral changes to keep an eye for in your kids:
- A preoccupation with the game
- Lying about how much time they have spent playing
- Withdrawal or lack of interest in activities and hobbies (not playing outside, quitting sports teams)
- Loss of relationships, not seeing friends or family
- Difficulty putting the game down, always needing stop after reaching the next level.
- Getting defensive, or angry when you request that they stop playing
- Choosing to play video games over basic needs: sleeping, eating, bathing etc.
- Anxious, irritated, losing control and mood swings.
- Using games to help feel better or ease a grumpy mood/ needing to play to feel good
- Loss of focus at school
What do you do if you start to see these impacts on your child:
- Set limitations 1 hour per day is optimal. Anything above 3 hours is too much
This may be very difficult, but after having an open and honest conversation about the reasoning why, hopefully your child will be on-board. Then, remind them of the other things they enjoyed and encourage them to turn off the console and get back into those interests.
- Talk to them about it openly and honestly. We live in a digital world; therefore, our kids must learn to live with tech in a thoughtful and healthy way. So it’s vital that we discuss what tech and video games are intended for, and as well as explaining that all tech is designed to influence us, we must be aware of that.
- Use app blockers and remove access to devices overnight. Some experts suggest removing all tech 2 hours before bedtime for optimal sleep. This will also discourage kids from waking in the night and sneaking late-night gaming.
- Help direct your child to other activities. Call up old friends or take them out to play a hockey game, or encourage them to do something they used to love.
- Encourage switching to an educational game. Or a family-friendly game the family can play together for a limited time.
- Ensure your kids get daily exercise. Encourage sports or outside play to make sure they’re moving their bodies.
So, if you have ever asked yourself about video game addiction, how much it too much then hopefully the checklists above were helpful.
If you have seen the signs and have attempted to help your child, but they’re still showing signs of overuse or perhaps showing signs of aggression, it’s best to speak with your health care practitioner. A health care practitioner can refer you to a specialist in this area and give further advice on how to scale back on gaming.