Unhealthy gaming habits are becoming more prevalent in our children to the extent that the World Health Organization has classed gaming addiction as a disorder.
While playing games can be educational and improve hand-eye coordination, excessive gaming, or Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) can severely affect your child’s physical and mental health.
With this in mind, I spoke to cyber security experts at VPNOverview who have identified the warning signs, consequences, and the best ways to deal with gaming addiction in children. Acknowledging the warning signs of gaming addiction early in children can prevent any physical or mental symptoms from worsening over time.
What is video game addiction?
Video games are designed to be addictive. They immerse the player with realistic graphics, compelling sound effects, engaging storylines, and haptic feedback. The possibility that a person can become addicted to video games has been a debate for many years.
The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that games trigger specific neurological pathways that stimulate pleasure and reward. In extreme cases, playing video games affects the brain in much the same way as alcohol, drugs, and gambling.
This being said, there is a big difference between excessive gaming and video game addiction. It’s important not to panic that your child is addicted to gaming unless particular symptoms develop over a long period.
If your child demonstrates these three symptoms for at least 12 months, video game addiction may be present:
- Impaired control over gaming: The inability to control the urge to play a video game
- Increased priority is given to gaming: Gaming takes precedence over any other interest or daily activity
- Continuation or escalation of gaming (despite harmful consequences to academic performance, work, social relationships, or health)
What are the warning signs of video game addiction?
According to The American Psychological Association, video game addiction is built on the need to spend more time gaming games.
Withdrawal symptoms are a warning sign of video game addiction. When depriving your child of the possibility of playing video games, even for a short amount of time, sadness, irritability, and anxiety are typical withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to these symptoms, less obvious clues may include:
- Forgoing basic needs such as eating, sleeping, and taking care of personal hygiene
- Loss of interest in other activities, social life, hobbies, and friends
- Performing poorly in school due to an inability to focus
- Lying to family about the time spent gaming
- Ignoring problems caused by video games
What are the consequences of video game addiction?
In 2020, the most extensive study ever conducted on teenage video game addiction, examining trajectories of pathological video game symptoms over six years, found that 10% of the group of adolescents studied showed physical and mental signs that got worse over time because of playing video games.
Physical effects of gaming addiction
While adults can also suffer from gaming addiction; children are still at a point in their lives where their bodies are still developing and growing, meaning they are at greater risk of developing physical issues:
- Lowered immune function due to chronic stress
- Sedentary lifestyle; lack of physical exercise, weight gain, poor posture, and a higher risk of type two diabetes
- Seizures from exposure to flickering graphics and lights
- Insomnia and chronic fatigue
- Poor personal hygiene
- Repetitive stress injuries in wrists or hands, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Disrupted eating habits
- Myopia and other eye conditions
Mental effects of gaming addiction
Video game addiction does not only affect a child’s emotions but also their nervous system. Increased levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, are produced in gamers because of constant overstimulation and hyperarousal.
This can cause chronic stress and can lead to the following:
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty managing impulses
- Hostility and aggression
- Lack of social engagement
- Decreased levels of creativity and passion
How to deal with video game addiction?
Having an open conversation with your child about how gaming affects them personally can help you identify any problems together.
Once your child becomes open to the idea of changing their schedule, suggest meeting up with friends and going places to replace the time spent gaming. Incremental changes are highly recommended.
While every child and family are different, the following steps can help you along to getting rid of a gaming addiction:
- Create an action plan together
It may be tempting to set strict rules; however, kids like to have a degree of autonomy in how they use technology. Explaining your reasons for setting time limits and being honest with your reasoning can go a long way.
- Model healthy use of screens and downtime
Parents can help their children by following the same guidelines as the child. If you take regular breaks from your phone and engage in activities, your child is more likely to imitate your actions, particularly younger children.
Focus on introducing exercise and relaxation time, and model emotional maturity to them.
- Address underlying issues
Talking to your child about why they love gaming so much can be a helpful way of identifying any underlying issues that they may be trying to escape through gaming. In some cases, talking to a psychologist or a doctor may be helpful.
- Build positive coping mechanisms
Doing something active or creative with your child can increase serotonin levels and positively affect problematic gaming symptoms. Try talking to them about their emotions, taking them outside for a walk, or finding a physical activity they enjoy.
- Show interest and reframe playing games in a positive way
Asking your child questions about how the game they are playing works may make it easier for them to talk to you and may reduce the chances of an argument. Understanding how a game works will allow you to learn why your child is so drawn to the game, and you will better understand what your child is doing.
- Use parental controls with caution
Children do have a right to privacy as much as anyone else. For this reason, total surveillance is discouraged. However, in some instances, parents may wish to use monitoring programs such as Qustodio to block specific applications automatically after a particular amount of time using them.
An expert from VPNOverview commented on the study saying: “While gaming addiction is rare, excessive gaming is widespread and can negatively affect kids’ mental and physical health. Factors such as loneliness, anxiety, and stress worsen unhealthy gaming habits.
“For parents, it can be a struggle to find appropriate ways to deal with video game addiction. Generally, it’s important to address underlying issues, agree on boundaries, and show an interest in your child’s experience. If your child suffers seriously, professional treatment is also an option.”
VPNOverview.com are a dedicated team of cybersecurity and privacy professionals offering guidance on these topics in the most accessible way possible.