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6 Symtoms of Video Game Addiction in a Child
Parents today are faced with a dilemma that their parents never had to deal with. Video games. Today, when their child gets home from school they will most likely immediately turn on their video gaming console. This will launch an inevitable internal struggle in the parent’s mind. Should they tell the child to stop? Play outside first? Tell the child to do their homework? Or let them play for a bit?
More studies are highlighting the negative effects of gaming, and this causes concern about whether frequent and lengthy playing sessions can lead to an addiction.
Professionals in the field of mental health have differing opinions and this subject still requires much more research. However, most medical and mental health professionals agree that pathological video game use is a problem.
A study done in 2009 estimated that around 12% of boys who play video games exhibited pathological play and only 8% of girls.
This study also observed that those who were pathological gamers had double the chance of having ADD or ADHD. This may be because children who have these disorders – or are somewhere on the autism spectrum – are drawn to the more structured environment. In life, people are unpredictable, but in video games, reactions and events are programmed. It provides clear and consistent rules for interaction, in contrast to the chaos and uncertainty that is everyday life.
Other people who are at risk of video game addiction are people who have conditions like Asperger’s, depression, anxiety, or PTSD. These conditions make life harder, whereas it is far easier to be successful and get recognition in a video game. People can turn to the world of video games and feel respected and admired for their achievements in the game, this recognition can take the place of the real-world respect that these individuals do not feel they are getting.
A young person who is not well connected has a poor relationship with their family, and has a mental illness on top of it all is very vulnerable and susceptible to this kind of addiction.
Another added risk factor is early exposure. In a report published in 2010, elementary aged students averaged 7.5 hours on electronic time DAILY. These children’s brains are rapidly developing, and they are developing a dependency on these devices, rather than human interaction.
Is it the video games fault?
From the paragraphs above, it is easy to deduce that some kids are prone to pathological video game usage. However, there is cause to wonder if video games themselves are causing the problem. They certainly do play a part. Addictions are related to the pleasure centre of the brain, and video games provide levels of pleasure. On the very first level, there is intermittent reinforcement – which is the unpredictability of reward. This is the basis of a gambling addiction as well.
Video games are designed to ‘hook’ the player using a well established psychological technique – presenting a challenge that the player can master. When a player masters the first goal they are rewarded with dopamine, and so on for every mastered challenge after that. Video game designers carefully plan how to make the game just difficult enough to reward the player upon mastery, but not so difficult that they get frustrated and give up. Addictive qualities are built into the game so the gamer seeks out that mastery and reward.
Symptoms of a video game addiction in a child:
- Lack of respect for boundaries set up by parents around console usage, screen time, etc.
- Lies or deceives a parent or guardian in order to gain more playing time
- Is no longer interested in other activities – other than computer or console usage
- Suffers a drop in school grades and participation
- Is sleep deprived because of unhealthy sleep habits
- Forgets to eat
Like in all other aspects of life, balance is key. No two children react the same way to screen stimulus and helping your child live a healthy life, independent from screens, may take some trial and error.
Some mental health professionals caution that you should keep electronics away from your child until they are 13 years old. The reasoning behind this is that children have rapidly developing brains that need to be learning complex physical and social tasks, and being constantly distracted by a screen will prevent them from doing so to the best of their abilities.
However, some parents reading this may realize that keeping your children away from screens for the first 13 years of their life is virtually impossible. Other mental health professionals of a much more manageable opinion. They suggest that technology should be introduced as the child is old enough to make use of the educational properties of whatever device they are using. For example, setting your child up with a reading game on the iPad when they are starting to learn to read can be a fun, and more effective method for them to learn to read. Another thing to factor in is when your child can distinguish fiction from reality, most kids can’t make this distinction until about 8, so up until then parents should be very careful about the content their children is consuming.
If your child is letting video games getting in the way of them living a healthy a productive life, they might need to seek help. There are many mental health professionals who are equipped to help young people navigate this kind of addiction and there are rehabilitation programs available as well.