Video Gaming: Is My Child Addicted to Video Games?

If you are a parent of a child, whether age 4 or 14, you may have wondered and worried about this very issue. It may seem as if your child wants to spend every free minute engaged in the latest and greatest video game. On a rainy day, this may seem like a harmless past-time, but when he or she seems oblivious to a beautiful summer day—and the opportunity for riding bikes, shooting hoops, skateboarding, or numerous other activities—should you be concerned? How will their social, emotional, physical, and mental health be impacted?

What Defines Addiction

Counselors and other mental and behavioral health professionals utilize the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-5) to assess for disorders. At present, only alcohol, drugs, and gambling are considered to have the potential to be addictive disorders. Extensive research has been conducted on these three categories, all of which engage the part of the brain that registers pleasure, and produces the feel-good hormone dopamine. The person using begins to crave the substance/activity, these cravings increase, and soon the acquisition of the substance or engaging in the activity becomes the most important thing in the person’s life. The addicted person will often forgo activities and relationships they formerly enjoyed, in order to devote all their personal, emotional, and financial resources to this substance/activity, and he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms without the substance/activity.

If It’s Not An “Addiction”, Should I Still Be Concerned?

The short answer to whether or not you should be concerned about your child’s use of video games is: “It depends”. Earlier this summer, The World Health Organization was reported to have classified excessive use of video games as a disorder, even though the American Psychiatric Association has not altered its opinion, at least not for now, and counselors do not diagnose it as a disorder. Certainly, it may appear to parents that game playing has resulted in their child forgoing other activities and meeting with friends, similar to those who misuse alcohol, drugs, or gambling. The allure of racking up points in a popular game seems to surpass just about everything else, with children glued to their screens even on a family vacation. Here are some points to consider if you are concerned, and some suggestions for how to manage your child’s use of video games:

• Oftentimes, children are playing these games on-line with other gamers in other cities and states. So, in a sense, your child is “socializing”, even if it is not what you remember as socializing from you own childhood. Try to remember some of the activities you enjoyed as a child that may have made your parents sigh or roll their eyes! Also, consider playing the game yourself, and engaging in a discussion with your child about what he or she enjoys about the game. Let your child experience being the “expert” and teach you how the game is played, and the strategies he or she employs.

• Many activities your child truly enjoys, if done in moderation, have the potential to provide a pleasant break from a long week of school and homework. Everybody needs a little down-time, even kids!

• If you notice your child spending increasing amounts of time playing video games, staying up past the agreed upon bedtime, not finishing homework, not engaging in other activities he or she once enjoyed, and avoiding time with the family, it may be time to start imposing limits. Explain to your child that his or her use of gaming is something you consider a treat, like a special dessert or meal, to be enjoyed in moderation. This is an opportunity to reiterate your values, which may include spending time together as a family, volunteer work, exercise, and attending a house of worship. In addition, talk to your child about creating opportunities for him or her to get together with school or neighborhood friends, whether that is in the form of a sleepover or trip to the movies.

To conclude, there are many areas where parents and children are likely to disagree. If you would like some assistance in learning how to communicate more effectively as a family, I can help. Please call me at your earliest convenience.
Lisa Johnson, LPC

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