Over the recent decade, technological advancements have given birth to a generation with the world at their fingertips. Although shown to be largely advantageous making us all more connected than any time in history, we may be ignoring a massive part of it causing significant damage to our children’s mental health and development. Video games are played by 2.8 million people worldwide, 17 percent of these being under 18. It is clear that with more children playing video games than ever they are more likely to develop video game addiction. In this article, we are going to outline some of the main indicators of video game addiction in children.
Missing meals in order to continue playing video games
This behaviour, although obvious, may be overlooked by some. Playing for long hours is a given in the realm of video game addiction, but it’s typically what they are neglecting when doing so is what gives us a good indicator of the problem. When a child is fully immersed in their gaming experience they can lose their concept of time and become somewhat numb to the sensation of hunger. The dopamine hit of completing the game or beating their opponent is fueling them taking precedence over food. As we know, a healthy diet is important for a child’s physical and mental development. Malnutrition in children can lead to stunted growth, poor performance in school, anxiety, irritability and low energy levels. Nutritional experts explain that video games are a risk factor for poor lifestyle and that habits developed in childhood or adolescence can stick with them for the rest of their lives. Surveys revealed that gamers also consumed fewer fruits and vegetables and engaged in less physical activity than non-users. Hence suggesting that increased video game usage can translate to poor obesity/poor nutrition and chronic disease. By allowing compulsive playing to occur we are nurturing these signs of addiction.
Escapism, playing video games to avoid problems
Children may be using video games to escape problems like schoolwork and stressful situations. Although many children play video games as a recreational activity it may not only be positive motivations for their playing. Research has shown that video games are a very common vice to avoid certain forms of psychiatric distress. When children are experiencing uncomfortable sensations for the first time, such as stress and anxiety, immersion into video games is a powerful enough distraction to prevent them from feeling it and overcoming it healthily. Playing video games in moderation to avoid stress can be beneficial; however excessive immersion into video games has proven to be detrimental and indicate mental health issues. Many people addicted to video games exhibit some level of escapism. Video game addiction is classified by the DSM-5 as severe behaviour patterns that significantly impair personal, family, social, educational, and occupational functioning. This does not only apply to children, escapism through video games can develop into safety-seeking habits in later life leading to mental health issues and stunting of their own personal growth. However, addressing these problems early in a child’s life can be extremely beneficial in the long run of developing video game addiction.
Mood swings and Irritability
When a person is addicted to video games they are essentially addicted to the dopamine hit that playing or succeeding in the game provides. Dopamine, being the feel-good neurotransmitter that dictates many of our daily motivations can have serious impacts on our mood should we not get our fix. Gaming addiction has no affinity for a physical substance but rather an internal chemical one. Mood swings and irritability are one of the main indicators of addiction as they usually manifest as severe withdrawal symptoms when they are forced to stop gaming. Children not being emotionally mature can commonly react with temper tantrums, restlessness and aggression. When a child is addicted to video games and deprived they can become very volatile due to the intense cravings they feel towards the game. The implications for this type of behaviour in a social setting is concerning, particularly in places such as school, or extracurricular activities. These withdrawal symptoms can taint a child interaction with the outside world severely affecting personal relationships and studies. Although concerning, withdrawal symptoms are not permanent and the human brain has a spectacular ability to recover. It takes the brain variable amounts of time to restabilise their dopamine levels and sensitisation of receptors however online courses of treatment such as The Mindful Gamer recommend a 90-day course of detoxification in order to allow adequate time for recovery.
Neglecting hobbies and other activities
Tying into the aforementioned addiction to the dopamine release of video games, another common symptom of video game addiction is neglecting other previously enjoyed activities as they are considered “boring” in relation to gaming. The addicted brain becomes desensitised to the excessive dopamine release from gaming. Therefore the individual requires more video games to satisfy their cravings as other activities simply do not provide the same level of satisfaction. This does however reign true as video games provide stimulation on multiple levels that no other hobby can. Video games by design offer the chance to see measurable growth, immediate success and a sense of achievement, a challenge, social stimulation and community all accessible from their gaming device of choice. Hence it is easy to see that this, combined with their addiction can make a child want to stay inside and play video games as opposed to their favourite sport. The importance of this is to recognise that the child will not develop many skills outside of video games if they do not apply themselves elsewhere. Gaming can very easily infatuate and absorb a child’s free time so it is important that their addiction is brought under control.
As a parent, many can be left wondering what to do about their child’s addiction to video games. It is not uncommon for such behaviour to cause rifts in the family and antisocial tendencies. So it is important that their addiction is addressed correctly. Some treatment options available consist of:
- Online Courses
- Group Therapy
- Rehabilitation centres
Typically therapy is the gold standard of treatment when it comes to video game addiction as professionals will decide the best plan of action for each individual case and are trained to diagnose and treat any comorbid disease. The only problem is that this can be very expensive and time-consuming therefore some might wish to consider other effective alternatives like group therapy and online courses.