By Dr. Sean Paul
If your child plays video games on a traditional console, computer, tablet, or their smartphone, they are not alone. In the US, about 90% of children and adolescents play video games; of this group, 65% of males and 35% of females are daily video game players. The majority of players have a healthy relationship with video games. They might play for 30 minutes a day or even less frequently, and can put down the game when called to dinner or homework. However, at least 8.5% of children between 8 and 18 have a gaming addiction that can interfere with a healthy life.
Video game addiction is characterized by a number of different factors. Your child might have a gaming addiction if they obsess over games, choose games over real-world relationships, become angry or sad when a game is taken away, and/or spend increasing amounts of time playing games. For an official diagnosis, you need to see a child psychiatrist who specializes in video game addiction, internet addiction, or technology addiction. Help should be sought sooner than later if parents believe their child has an addiction, before serious social, school, and behavioral problems get worse.
A gaming disorder is more likely to develop when children and adolescents play online rather than offline games. In these massive multiplayer online games (or MMO’s) like World of Warcraft or Gild Wars or Runescape, and player-versus-player or multiplayer interactive games like Fortnite, players are able to interact with thousands of other players in a virtual world. Many offline and online games have traditionally been played from a computer or gaming device like an Xbox or PlayStation. However, as smartphone technology develops, young people have been found playing these games from their handheld devices throughout the day and even in bed at night.
Online games especially are immersive and can lead young players to substitute the world in these games for reality. While not inherently dangerous, spending excessive amounts of time on these games can lead to poor social skills, obsession, and lowered well-being. Females who play excessively are more likely to develop lowered self-esteem, while males have higher rates of depression and loneliness. Young males who are more aggressive or socially anxious and who live in anxiety provoking environments may use gaming as an escape tool, and are therefore more likely to become addicted.
Parents can help their children by setting limits on times and types of games their children play. Parents need to know who they are communicating with via these games as well. They should make sure children who have issues with anxiety and aggression have healthier outlets than playing video games and get the help they need from a psychiatrist for those issues. Some children may been a video game detox where they remove all video games for a period of time. If playing has gotten out of control, this may be an option for some household, but often does not help long-term. Playing video games is becoming a more common activity that can be a fun family activity or a way for children and teens to relax after school. However, moderation is key to ensuring game playing does not get out of hand and begin impacting school, social life, behavior, family life and even their physical and mental health.
Sean Paul, MD is the founder at NowPsych and the Internet Addiction Center. He is a dual board-certified child/adolescent and adult psychiatrist who treats patients of all ages with anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, behavioral issues, and OCD and also has an area of focus on Internet addiction and Video game addiction.