Jeremy Edge, LPC
More Than Just a Game: Signs of Gaming Addiction and Treatment
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
"Mom! I have to play now!"
“You can play after you finish your homework.”
"I WANT TO PLAY NOW! I have been at school all day and all I want to do is play a few games."
"You can play a game AFTER you finish your homework."
“YOU DON’T GET IT!!! I have to play right now!”
Have you ever had a similar conversation like this with your child? You set limits to your child’s gaming time and you are met with an unreasonably angry response. Why is your child so emotional and angry when their playing time is limited? Why does it seem like they are trying to play more and more? And why is it they only want to talk about the game? Online gaming could be interfering with your child's overall well-being.
Another activity that shares similar attributes to gaming is drinking. If done in moderation by an adult, drinking alcohol can be a positive part in one's life. After a long day at work, it can be nice to sit down with your spouse or loved one and talk about the day over a glass of wine. It can help enhance an experience, such as watching a really good movie or spending time with friends. However, drinking can have horrible affects if not done in moderation. It can cause one to lose their career, relationships, finances, and health if it becomes an addiction. Like drinking, online gaming can enhance one's life or take away from it.
Like a nice glass of Merlot at the end of the day to unwind, so gaming can be a good way to relax. Online gaming can be a great way to talk with your friends and work together as a team. Most people who play video games do not have negative affects academically, professionally, relationally, or physically. But some gamers suffer greatly in those areas due to their gaming habit. So what does that look like?
Signs of Problematic Gaming
The World Health Organization recognized Gaming Disorder as a mental illness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition (DSM-5) has Internet Gaming Disorder as a disorder needing further research. The theme with both of these diagnoses is gaming becomes a disorder when it negatively affects one’s life. Here are some signs of problematic gaming.
One sign of problematic gaming is when a person needs to spend more and more time on the game to have fun. Instead of playing for 30 minutes, they want to play for an hour, then five, then all day. As their time increases so does their tolerance.
Another sign is when there is a negative response or behavior when a person cannot play the game. They become irritable and upset when they do not have access to the game. The person can become angry, nervous, or sad. These reactions are withdrawal due to not being able to play.
Constantly thinks about the last gaming experience and when they will play next is another sign of problematic gaming. Their thought process is so enmeshed in the game that they struggle to think about other things in their life such as work, school, family, and friends. At times they don't even think about eating because they are focused so much on gaming.
Academics in Jeopardy
Another sign relates to school and work performance. Teens who experience problematic gaming will see grades dropping. They are so focused on playing they neglect, and don't care about, their grades. When one’s academic or professional progress diminishes due to the amount of time gaming, then gaming has become the priority in one’s life and a problem.
So what do we do? If your kid only talks about Fortnite and tries to play it all the time, are they doomed to drop out of school and live with you the rest of your life? Don't worry, here are some tips to help address problematic gaming.
3 Things You Can Do
One great thing to do is strengthen your relationship with your child. Talk with them and spend time with them. Even if all they want to talk about is their game, that’s fine. Learn about their game. Ask them questions. Learn what about the game gets them excited. Maybe they are being a leader in the game which can be encouraged outside of the game.
As you talk with your child, it is vital that you do not judge them. We may be thinking, “This is the dumbest game in the world,” but we need to express to them “This is the coolest game in the world!” Why? Because we want our child to trust us. We want them to feel close to us and a great way to do that is to experience their world. Once you have a positive relationship with them and you can talk openly, it is good to talk about healthy boundaries.
Discuss Appropriate Boundaries
Your child won’t like this step, but it’s important that we set screen time limits for our children. The Internet is like any other place in the world. Some places are safe and some are dangerous. We need to help teach appropriate ways to navigate the Internet to keep them safe.
Discuss with them how nothing you say on the Internet is private. Talk with them about the importance of having a well-balanced life which consists of spending time outside and exercise. Have a good relationship with them and be okay with educating them on how to utilize the Internet as a positive rather than a negative.
Do Other Activities
A lot of children, and adults, will not know what to do with their time when their gaming time is taken away. It is important to help the child explore other activities that are fun and positive. Get them involved with a sports team or a musical instrument. Play catch with them or play more board games as a family. Replace the negative gaming time with something that is more positive and healthy. Again, the point is to help the child become well-rounded individual rather than having one hobby distract them from living.
Whatever game your child plays, it does not have to control them. Take steps today to engage with your child to strengthen your relationship with them. Start talking about positive ways to engage with them today. Games are entertaining, so make family time something fun both you and your child will enjoy. That way, rather than finding all their joy in a game, they find it in relationships and real life.