teen gaming and phone addiction

Gaming Addiction in Children

One characteristic of the modern world is the prevalence of video games as a form of recreation. From the bulky consoles of the 80s and 90s to the PC games of the 2000s and now, with the ubiquity of online gaming, it is rare to find a child who doesn’t indulge in video games at least to some degree.

The pervasiveness of video games has occasioned substantial discussion over their influence on young people, with parents trying to sort out whether games are “good or bad.” The answer is not so simple: gaming habits exist on a spectrum, from rarely gaming on one end all the way to full-blown video game addiction on the other. The pros and cons of gaming are going to be relative to how big a place gaming takes up in your child’s life.

Practiced in moderation, gaming does have benefits: improved troubleshooting skills, response times, hand-eye coordination, encouraging teamwork, stimulating creativity, focus, and visual memory, improving leadership strategies, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. In this sense, gaming must be approached as a recreational activity similar to other recreational activities: something that is engaged in occasionally for fun and to build certain skills.

Concerns about gaming are not without merit, however, as gaming behaviors can become so obsessive as become addictive. Video game addiction is a compulsive behavior that develops around playing video games. Video game addiction occurs when someone experiences impaired control over their gaming habits. This is generally manifest in increasing priority given to gaming over other activities, to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences (source).

Signs of Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction can be difficult to recognize because there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies it. Usually, it is discernible through a whole basket of behaviors over a prolonged period. Here are some things to ask yourself:

  • Does my child seem preoccupied with playing video games?

  • Does my child have trouble cutting down on video game use?

  • Does my child seem to be using video games as a way of coping with negative emotions?

  • Is my child losing interest in other activities because of gaming?

  • Have I caught my child lying or being deceptive about how much time is spent gaming?

  • Is my child becoming distant from real-life friends due to time spent gaming?

  • Does my child ever fail to eat because of preoccupation with gaming?

  • Does my child continue to escalate video game use despite the problems it causes?

  • Does my child exhibit “withdrawal” symptoms when not gaming (agitation, fidgetiness, bad attitude, frustration)?

Video game addiction can also affect discipline: siblings might fight with each other over whose turn it is or who is holding the controls; you will get the “just ten more minutes!” when you tell them its time to turn it off, and the child’s sullen attitude when not gaming can make it difficult to keep your child on task for their school work and chores. Video game addiction is something homeschooling parents, in particular, need to watch out for since our children are generally home every day. This makes it much easier for them to slip away and play video games if we are not vigilant. 

Gaming Addiction Effects on Mental Health

Are there health hazards associated with video game addiction? A recent study done on 2,000 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who spent on average seven hours and 38 minutes in front of the screen daily found that 27% of them reported “less than excellent” mental health; 19% reported “poor mental health,” meaning that a total of 46% believed their mental health was not good. Furthermore, 39% of the children exhibited signs of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. 25% of them reported having visited a healthcare clinic or therapist at least once.

The study did not establish a causative link between gaming and the negative outcomes; that is, it was not clear whether gaming caused these negative outcomes or whether those who already experienced these outcomes sought out gaming as a means of coping. But one interesting observation of the study is that, if you look at the average amount of time the children spent gaming, it equated to more time each week than a full-time job.

How Prevalent is Video Game Addiction?

Game Quitters is an organization dedicated to promoting awareness about gaming addiction and empowering families with resources to help break obsessive gaming habits. Based on several scientific studies, Game Quitters estimates that 3-4% of all video game players could be classified as addicts. This number becomes higher among young people, however, with 8.5% of children under 18 suffering from video game addiction. Young people are, therefore, at twice the risk for developing a gaming addiction than the adult population.

But why are video games addicting, to begin with? Video games are likely addictive because they affect the brain in ways similar to other addictive substances. Playing a video game triggers the release of dopamine in the brain; this is the so-called “pleasure chemical.” Dopamine gives you a sense of pleasure and satisfaction in what you are doing. Since the response feels good, we keep repeating the same behavior to continue experiencing the dopamine reaction. This cycle can lead to an addictive relationship with gaming (source).

If you think your child might have a video game addiction but aren’t sure, Game Quitters has an online quiz to help navigate the symptoms.

Help for a Gaming Addiction

Besides being bad for your child, gaming addiction can be incredibly disruptive in your homeschool. Not only does it draw your child’s mind from his studies and life outside of gaming, but it constitutes a distraction for other siblings and can become a source of conflict within the home. If your child is struggling with a gaming addiction, it is best to get professional help from a therapist or pediatrician with experience in this area.

There are some actions you can take at home, as well, both to address an existing gaming problem as well as prevent one from developing:

  1. Set defined limits for when and how long kids are allowed to play and stick to them.
  2. You definitely want to keep phones or other devices where gaming can be accessed out of children’s rooms at night; if your child already has a gaming problem, it is probably best to keep electronics out of the bedroom all the time.
  3. Fill the day up with other activities, especially physical activities like exercise.  This will counter the habit of sitting and playing for long stretches of time and create healthier habits of movement.

Again, this article is not to suggest that gaming is bad; studies have shown that moderated amounts of gaming are associated with positive outcomes. So I am not saying homeschoolers need to eschew gaming or treat it with suspicion. But like any other activity, gaming needs boundaries if it is to remain a wholesome part of your child’s life.

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