Gaming Addiction in Children: Should You Be Concerned?

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When an innocent game that was once ‘a bit of fun’ now dictates your child’s sleeping habits, eating patterns and grades at school, you know that something’s wrong. Gaming addiction is very real—and it’s on the rise.

If your child is waking up to alerts on their phone in the early hours of a school morning, eating breakfast while glued to their phone and withdrawing from friends, what’s a parent to do? And, where do you draw the line between engagement and addiction?

We spoke to psychotherapist & behavioural specialist, Steven Rosenberg and mental health expert, Richard Daniel Curtis to answer some questions that may be on your mind.

Gaming Addiction: Recognising the Signs

Addiction comes in all forms which is why defining one can be so grey. If your child is playing in moderation, there’s no problem, right?

But what happens when daily routines start slipping away?

Dr Steven Rosenberg says that gaming addiction “keeps children from learning important social skills. Gaming consumes them. The “high” they feel from gaming means everything else is less fun.” The child feels as though they’re finally good at something—they feel better about himself or herself.

The first sign of gaming addiction, according to Rosenberg is hearing the child talk incessantly about their game. If they aren’t playing, they’re talking about playing, or planning to play. And when they turn their game on, they can play for hours on end.

Then, the child may start to get defensive when told about their habit, and get angry when told to stop. “The child may begin to abandon basic needs such as cleanliness, eating and sleeping. The child may also appear to be lonely and/or depressed.”

In summary, signs to watch out for include:

  • Child withdrawing from social activities they once enjoyed
  • Basic needs such as hygiene, eating and sleeping are sacrificed or affected
  • You sense your child may be feeling lonely or depressed
  • Constant talking about a game, or about their plans to play it again
  • Aggression or anger when you try to end their game

Is Gaming Addiction on the Rise For Kids?

Short answer? Yes.

“Software developers make their money by making their products addictive,” Curtis explains. “The combination of both the increase in access to technology and the draw of these games causes people to feel a need to complete a level/game/quest.”

Forcing your child to cut back back on screen time can cause problems in the household, such as aggression, anger and even violence in extreme cases. Like with any addiction, cutting cold turkey isn’t for everyone. Treat your child’s gaming addiction in the same way, by slowly reducing the time spent playing, while also encouraging your child to engage in other activities they find fun.

What Can Parents Do to Help

The addiction can become so intense that parents may start to feel a little helpless. It can seem impossible to get your child to take a break from their game. But there are things you can do to help; and with time, healthy habits can become concrete again.

Educating yourself on the ins and outs of gaming addiction can help you help your child. Speaking to your child’s school counsellor may also help, as well as attending support groups for parents and using online resources to learn more about gaming addiction.

Secondly, according to Dr Rosenberg, “the important thing for parents to remember is that children need to understand the importance of tech-free time to allow their brain to be less over-stimulated. It will also help them to be refreshed for their game.”

Try to reinforce this. Keep the positives in mind. For example, explain to your child, “in small doses, playing games is OK.” After all, though it might be hard to see, gaming can help kids to problem solve, share with friends and work through challenging situations. Then outline the changes you have observed in your child’s behaviour.

Setting time limits followed by rewards for your child can help. Come to an agreement—for example, “if you switch the game off by 7.30, we can go out for dinner and see a movie afterwards.”

Finding activities your child enjoys outside of the virtual world will hopefully motivate them to do other things. Taking your child out to play sports outdoors, see movies or enjoy their favourite meals with family or friends will distract them from games and show them that they can be engaged and have fun with activities offline.

Finding a healthy activity or hobby your child can sink their teeth into can help them find meaning in something other than gaming. Sometimes this can take time, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t find the perfect activity right away.

Another method that parents can try is instilling the mantra of ‘no technology at the table.’ Meal times like breakfast and dinner should be used for socialising or eating mindfully, rather than being glued to a screen.

Rosenberg stresses the importance of helping your child develop a healthy relationship with tech. “If they are shielded away from it and not allowed to use it, then when they do they will binge.”

Rather than cutting games out of your child’s life because it seems like the easy thing to do, or expressing how negative technology can be because that’s how you currently feel, try and be as positive as you can.

Educating yourself on gaming addiction, and treating it as seriously as any other disorder will allow your child to see your care and understanding. If he or she feels understood, whatever you do from thereon will be smoother for everyone.

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