Video game addiction has been in the news lately, due to the World Health Organization (WHO) recently adding “gaming disorder” to its international classification of diseases. Gaming disorder is also a “condition for further study” for inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association’s next diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM), according to Dr. Cecelia Horan, director of child and adolescent services at AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital Hoffman Estates.
For many parents, this news has simply attached a name to a long-standing concern: are video games detrimental to a child’s social and emotional development? How much gameplay is too much? If you share these concerns, here is what you need to know about gaming disorder and how to make video games part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
What Is Gaming Disorder?
In order for gaming disorder to be diagnosed, it must significantly impair aspects of life such as family, social or educational areas for at least 12 months. Prior to its WHO classification, many of the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder were generalized to accommodate symptoms of gaming addiction. Both disorders cause the brain to produce dopamine in a similar way, which in turn produces the sensation of pleasure or euphoria that fuels the addictive behavior.
Who Is at Risk?
Although any age group and demographic is at risk of gaming disorder, kids can be especially susceptible, since many are first exposed to electronics with game capabilities at an impressionable age.
Striking a Healthy Balance
Video games are not inherently bad for a child’s health; they can provide a social outlet where children create bonds that bloom into friendships. That said, games should be played in moderation and balanced with physical exercise, face-to-face social activities and creative, unstructured play. Here are some recommendations for how parents can help their children achieve that healthy balance:
- Learn about the games your child wants to play: The term “video games” encompasses everything from Super Mario Brothers and Candy Crush to violent survival games such as Fortnite. Vet games in advance by watching playthroughs of it on YouTube. This will help you determine if it is appropriate for your child.
- Enforce time limits : Work with your children to set daily time limits for gameplay and teach them how to work within those limits. That way, they can plan ahead rather than get upset when they have to stop mid-game.
- Create a bridge between the game and real life: Talk to your children about the skills required to progress through the game (i.e., problem-solving, lateral thinking, quick reflexes, exploration, creativity, etc.) and how they can apply those skills to everyday situations.
- Teach your kids about online safety: If your child is playing an online game, they will likely be exposed to offensive language, trash talk and verbal abuse from other players at some point. Rather than shield them from this ugly inevitability, treat it as a learning opportunity. Teach them how to manage those situations effectively (i.e., muting/disconnecting the audio, reporting abuse to the game’s moderators, not sharing personal information with strangers, etc.).