How can I tell whether or not my child is actually addicted to video and computer games? He spends a lot of time gaming, but it's hard to know whether it's really that serious of a problem. Should I be concerned?
When it comes to addictive behavior of any kind, it's better to be safe than sorry. It just so happens that there are some very real dangers associated with excessive gaming. In fact, there are many documented cases where gaming has destroyed marriages, families, careers, and entire lives. Moms and dads have an opportunity to avoid these problems by noticing signs of serious addiction in their children and taking action early on.
The patterns of pathological behavior have been studied by a group at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Their finding with hundreds of video-game-addiction cases that addicted gamers' lives are always significantly disrupted by the games. This is the thing you want to watch out for. There are also several physical symptoms of addiction that will let you know if your son's gaming activities have become something more than just a hobby. These include:
- Inability to stop the activity.
- Neglecting family and friends.
- Lying to employers and/or family about activities.
- Problems with school or job.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Dry eyes.
- Failure to attend to personal hygiene.
- Sleep disturbances or changes in sleep patterns.
If you notice any of these signs in your child, take action at once. Any one of the above symptoms can indicate that he is spending too much time in front of the screen. This doesn't necessarily mean that the time has come for professional intervention, of course—it's possible that you just need to take steps to cut down on game usage. We suggest you begin by getting tougher about time limits and actively monitoring screen time.
If your son is losing sleep, or if you notice that his grades are slipping, you should remove the gaming equipment from his bedroom. Taking this action has additional advantages in that it's easier to enforce time limits if the gaming console or computer is centrally located in your home. If his grades continue to slide, you may need to get rid of the equipment entirely.
If you feel that your child's attitude and behavior have changed drastically—for example, if he's clearly obsessed with the game and acts out with severe hostility when unable to play—you may need to seek professional assistance. Therapy can uncover underlying problems that may be contributing to the addiction. We should note that this is a last resort that would come into play only in extreme situations. In most cases, gaming can be controlled with consistent enforcement of stricter rules.
If you think it's time to get the help of a trained therapist, our Counseling department can provide you with referrals to specialists practicing in your area. Our counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Parents' Guide to Video Games