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How to Help a Child who is Addicted to Video Games

Your child is playing video games for hours on end. You redirect your child to a different activity, but it doesn’t take long that he goes right back to playing video games. You are worried he will lose interest and motivation for school and that he stops getting good grades because he is playing video games for extended periods every day. You are also concerned about his lack of physical activity and limited socializing. But most importantly, you are worried that your child is addicted to video games and if so, how can you help.

 

What is Internet gaming disorder (IGD)?

Internet gaming disorder is an addictive disorder that is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). For one’s gaming behaviour to be diagnosed as a gaming disorder, there needs to be a substantial negative effect in personal, social, educational or other areas as a result of the excessive video game playing that lasts for at least 12 months. The studies suggest that only a small proportion of video game players have Internet gaming disorder. During the teen years, approximately 3 to 6% of video game players account for pathological video game use. This proportion increases to 8 to 12% during adulthood. Most video game players are now over 18 years of age.

Despite the low incidence of Internet gaming disorder, it would be wise to monitor to see if other daily activities get ignored as a result of the video gaming behaviour, or if there are any changes to the player’s overall health and mental health.

 

What factors make my child more likely to become addicted to playing video games?

Internet gaming disorder is complex. It is impacted by the biology of the person’s brain, personality traits, socioeconomic and environmental factors.

Certain personality traits may increase one’s odds of developing an Internet gaming disorder. These can be grouped into 3 personality clusters which we’ve taken it upon ourselves to name;

The Escapist

  1. Poor self-esteem
  2. high impulsivity
  3. low achievement motivation
  4. desire to ‘escape’ from reality

The Competitive

  1. High self-esteem
  2. high impulsivity
  3. motivation to achieve the game

The Day-Dreamer

  1. High self-esteem
  2. high impulsivity
  3. motivation to roleplay, achieve the game or escape from reality

 

Depression is a contributing factor to online gaming addiction. Somebody with depressive symptoms is at three times greater risk of developing online gaming addictions compared to somebody without depressive symptoms. The brain regions that show abnormal function in depression also show abnormal function in Internet gaming disorder.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been shown to predispose children and teenagers to video game addiction. The severity of the ADHD and the increase in addiction to video games may be associated. In particular, boys with ADHD tend to have a higher severity of video addiction compared to girls with ADHD. Many studies point to an increased link between boys and video gaming addiction in general.

You may have noticed that your child has increased the amount of time that he or she plays video games online since the COVID-19 lockdown.  Many teenagers and college students have turned to online video gaming as they believe it to be a coping mechanism to help manage stress.

 

Can video game addiction affect physical and mental health?

When children spend a large amount of time playing video games, they have less time to socialize and exercise, both of which can lead to negative emotions. A lack of exercise can lead to multiple physical health issues, including obesity.

Depression is not only a factor that contributes to video game addiction, but it has also been shown that video game addiction can cause higher levels of depression as well as other disorders such as social phobia and anxiety.

Multiple studies have linked Internet gaming disorder with depression, substance abuse, anxiety, social anxiety disorder, loneliness, sleep disturbances and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. However, in the study that looked at older kids who believe that playing video games online might be a stress management mechanism, there was no increase in either depression or anxiety linked with moderate to severe increases in game-playing time.

Moreover, watching a computer or another type of digital screen for considerable periods of time can cause eye strain.

 

Can video game addiction affect school grades?

Multiple studies have linked excessive video game playing to poor academic results. However, keep in mind that each child is different and that some may have had academic challenges regardless of the video game playing, and some may play excessively and still achieve good grades.

 

How to help your child with his or her video game addiction?

There is good news. Many people with behavioural addictions, such as video game addiction, tend to recover without the help of an addiction program. Scientists estimate that up to half of those with Internet gaming disorder will be able to achieve remission.

As a parent, start by opening a calm dialogue with your child. Help him or her understand your concerns for his or her health and well-being due to their excessive use of video games. To help ward off any potential negative effects, set boundaries on your child’s video game usage. You may even ask your child to provide input into these limits, as this may result in greater buy-in. Identify the consequences if the boundaries are not followed. Be reasonable with the severity of the consequence because you need to be able to enforce later on if required.

Now here comes the tough part; you must ensure that your child sticks to these limits. If this is too difficult or not possible for you to manage, you may want to investigate apps that help monitor, limit time and restrict online use on computers and mobile devices. If your child cooperates and abides by the boundaries, you may want to reward their behaviour. We suggest something unrelated to video games. If your child does not abide by the set boundaries, remind them of the rules and the consequence.

 

The Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) is here to help

The Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) specializes in treating addictions. Join our Facebook group of others who are going through the same thing as you and see proof that it can get better.

 

References:

Dong, G-H. et al. Functional neural changes and altered cortical-subcortical connectivity associated with recovery from Internet gaming disorder. J of Behavioral Addictions 8(4). Pp.692-702 (2019).

Gonzalez-Bueso, Vega et al. Internet Gaming Disorder Clustering Based on Personality Traits in Adolescents, and Its Relation with Comorbid Psychological Symptoms. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 1516.

Jeong, Hyunsuk et al.. Reciprocal relationship between depression and Internet gaming disorder in children: A 12-month follow-up of the iCURE study using cross-lagged path analysis. J of Behavioral Addictions 8(4), pp. 725-732 (2019).

Mylona, Ioanna et al. The Impact of Internet and Videogaming Addiction on Adolescent Vision: A review of the Literature. Frontiers in Public Health. March 2020. Volume 8. Article 63.

Pal Singh, Singh, Yatan et al. Impact of lockdown following COVID-19 on the gaming behavior of college students. Indian J of Public Health. 2020; 64(6): 172-176.

Razjouyan, Katayoon et al. An investigation into the frequency of addiction to video games in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. J Family Med Prim Care. 2020 Feb; 9(2): 669-672.

Starcevic V, Khazaal Y. Relationships between behavioural addictions and psychiatric disorders: what is known and what is yet to be learned? Front Psychiatry 2017;8:53. doi:

10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00053

Stockdale, Laura and Coyne, Sarah M. Parenting paused: Pathological video game use and parenting outcomes. Addictive Behaviors Reports; 11 (2020) 100244.

World Health Organization. “Gaming Disorder”. 2020, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/gaming-disorder. Accessed 4 Aug 2020.