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Can kids and teens really be addicted to video games?

proactive parenting addiction to videogames

Internet gaming, also known as online video games, is an evolving activity that many children and teens are playing and becoming addicted to 1,2. There are two main types of online video games: Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MORPGs). The most popular games currently are World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and Guild Wars 2.

MMOGs and MORPGs allow children and teens to play with lots of other people all around the globe. The games tend to be role-playing games, first-person shooter games (shooting others from the perspective of the person holding the gun), and real-time strategy games in which multiple players organize themselves, create strategies, and execute plays as a group to advance in the game.

The online gaming environment allows kids and teens to socialize and immerse themselves in a fantasy world. The games are developed to reward players who play more. Longer and more successful play may lead to more powers in the fantasy world, more leadership roles among other players, and feelings of success and power. The online, real-time nature of the games allows players to interact directly with others, socialize, and gain a reputation and admiration from other players.

How can we tell if our child has become addicted to video games?

Children and teens who feel compelled to connect to their online games, have difficulty stopping play, and who play for extended periods of time without desires to re-enter normal society may have an addiction.

Internet gaming has been associated with negative consequences for addicted users, such as sacrificing real-life relationships for online relationships, insufficient sleep, missing school, or poor school performance. Additionally, addicts report an obsession with gaming, problems with verbal memory, aggression and hostility, stress, dysfunctional relationships in real life, low feelings of wellbeing and loneliness.

Children or teens who have a dependency or addiction to Internet gaming may have one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. Obsessed with gaming and cannot stop talking about it, wants to play continuously, and cannot stop play independently;
  2. Uses the Internet gaming world as an escape from the normal stresses of daily life or becomes enraptured when he or she is able to connect to the game;
  3. Develops a tolerance so that more and more game time is necessary to fully relax;
  4. Feels anxious, depressed, or angry if he or she cannot play or is interrupted during play;
  5. Starts having negative consequences as a result of Internet gaming, such as poor school performance, insufficient sleep, or relationship issues;
  6. Cannot stop playing independently and will “sneak” gaming time when limits are set.

proactive parenting addiction to videogames

These behaviors stem from changes in the child’s brain from the stimulation of the Internet gaming. Brain activity related to how feelings of reward, motivation and memory are affected. There is a deep drive to get the “high” that comes from gaming and children may lose control at some point in their ability to limit themselves. This is on top of the social aspects and peer recognition that occur in the virtual gaming environment.

How can we prevent our children from having an addiction to video games?

So what can parents do to protect their children from Internet gaming addictions? A few easy strategies can help lessen the risk:

  • Do not use video games, the Internet, or social networks as a free babysitter.

Lots of parents push technology into their children’s lives because they feel that their children will be behind or left out. And, it is very easy to put a computer, tablet, or phone into a child’s hand and watch his or her sit silently for long periods. All major pediatric organizations recommend that children have 2 hours or less of screen time per day. The rest of their free time should be developing skills through play, sport, music, reading, writing, or just getting bored.

  • Teach children how to safely use the Internet, including Internet gaming.

Not all parents understand the dangers of the Internet or the ability and competence their children have in navigating the Internet and participating in Internet gaming. Parents should focus on setting limits and boundaries with children prior to allowing them to access the Internet. Discuss what to do if something doesn’t seem right (someone asking for personal details such as an address or nude pictures). And, parents need to know how to monitor their children’s devices (turning on parental controls, setting time limits, monitoring browsing histories, reviewing social network accounts, etc.).

  • Encourage other activities away from screens.

Get kids involved in activities such as sports or clubs. As a family, choose activities that get everyone out of the house, such as bowling, taking a walk, or visiting the library to grab some books. Additionally, parents can limit the time that children can play online. Teaching children limits from an early age can help them to naturally incorporate self-limitation into their lives. Set rules and enforce them consistently.

  • Learn the warning signs of addiction and watch for them.

Warning signs that parents should watch for include: lowering school performance, sleepiness from late-night playing, lying about the amount of time gaming, failing to do homework, avoiding social interactions in order   to game, being obsessed with gaming, becoming hostile or aggressive when unable to play or asked to stop playing. If parents see any of these signs,   they should contact their health care professional for support and guidance.

Internet gaming affects children differently. Not all children who online game will become addicted. However, there is research that shows that Internet gaming addictions do exist and have negative consequences for children. Parents can be proactive by monitoring their children’s online presence, setting limits consistently, and helping children learn and participate in other activities that support healthy growth and development. With a proactive perspective, parents can help their children enjoy the excitement of Internet gaming while minimizing the risks.

1 Yee, N. (2006). Motivations for play in online games. CyberPsychology and Behavior 9(6). pp. 772-775.
2 Kuss, D.J. (2013). Internet gaming addiction: current perspectives. Psychological Research & Behavioral Management 6. pp. 125-137.

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