Most kids enjoy playing video and computer games and can be at it for hours or days at a time; especially when they have new games they want to master. For some, the camaraderie and communities that online gaming worlds offer fulfill an important social role in their lives. While many teens can play a couple of hours of games a week and successfully balance school, social time and family, for others it can be a compulsion that prevents development in essential areas. The big questions is… when is it too much?
Clinical director of the Center for Online Addiction, Kimberly Young, has been investigating teen gaming. Like other addictions, she says the telltale signs are whether your teen has a compulsion to play that seems irresistible and if they experience withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t able to play their game. According to Young: “They become angry, violent, or depressed. If [parents] take away the computer, their child sits in the corner and cries, refuses to eat, sleep, or do anything.”
Gaming offers a wonderful psychological escape to students and it is this aspect that fuels their addiction. While students may be unpopular at school, they can be dominant superheroes in the game. As they develop a social circle of supportive, admiring team members, they will spend more and more time in a fantasy world where they are respected and accepted. When they are drawn out of this world, it is as traumatic as if they just lost all their friends and were ripped from the communities in which they felt they belonged.
When teens spend more than three hours a day (and more on weekends) playing games, they will be missing out on key social and academic developments and this will have lasting effects. They will suffer from fatigue, their grades will fall, they will drop out of extra-mural activities, they may drift apart from family and friends and will experience isolation.
Time isn’t the only factor in determining addiction. Other symptoms include:
- Gaming to escape real-life problems
- Gaming for increasing amounts of time
- Thinking about gaming when engaging in other activities
- Lying to conceal the amount of time spent gaming
- Feelings of irritation or depression when not gaming
If you suspect that your teen or someone you know may be addicted to gaming, the first thing to do is to begin documenting their possible addiction. Start by logging the number of hours they spend gaming in a daily diary. List favorite activities that they no longer participate in because they are spending all their time gaming. You should also list problems that result from gaming, times they lied about gaming and their reaction to limitations placed on the amount of time they spend gaming.
Start by talking to you teen about their addiction and suggest that they take steps to remedy the situation. If they are not able to do so, seek professional help. Like all addictions, gaming is a serious problem that requires professional help. Work with your teen to find solutions that are beneficial to everyone.