By Dr Sapna Bangar
One of the common issues plaguing our youth currently is video-gaming addiction. There is certainly a rise in parents seeking help from professionals for problems with excessive time spent playing video games. ‘He freaks out when we tell him to stop playing his game’, ‘Is my child addicted?’ ‘His aggression has increased and has got us worried’. I can still hear the desperation in the voices of parents seeking our help. The problem has reached such magnitude that The World Health Organisation declared compulsively playing video games as a mental health condition in 2018. Termed “gaming disorder” , this will apply to people who play excessively and of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
When should you be really worried?
Most children and adults play video or mobile games for recreation, so when should you be worried as a parent? If your child shows any of the following signs, it is definitely time to tackle the problem.
- Your child is preoccupied with video games and his life seems to be revolving around it. He or she is constantly playing games or talking about it. Games seem to be the only motivator in his/her life.
- Your child’s social interactions have reduced considerably. They refuse to go out of the house or meet their friends.
- Your child’s grades are failing and they refuse to do their school work or don’t even seem bothered about it anymore.
- Stopping video games causes a huge meltdown, anger outburst or makes them aggressive or excessively irritable.
- Your child lies to you about the time they spend playing or steals money to play video games.
Why should you be worried?
So why are we so worried about our children playing video games. A youth in my clinic challenged me that if he was playing cricket, his parents would have encouraged him as opposed to bringing him for counselling. I explained that video gaming causes the following problems:
Lack of sleep
Kids who play excessively do so especially at night, mostly to hide from the watchful eyes of their parents. This results in sleep deprivation, which is more harmful to minds that are still developing. When they have school the next day, it affects their attention and learning. Their lack of sleep also causes them to have headaches and feel fatigued throughout the day.
Lack of physical exercise
Kids who play excessively exercise less, if at all. This adds to secondary physical issues like obesity. Also, exercise is important for developing brains.
Other physical problems
Overuse of the mouse or controller may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Other complaints include dry eyes, migraine headaches and backaches. In severe cases, gamers also neglect their hygiene.
Excessive play takes time away from kids to interact with family members and friends. Being isolated most of the time deprives a child from developing social skills that he could learn from being out with friends. Although online games are mostly social, the skills kids can learn from it are very limited because they are not face-to-face interactions.
Lack of interest in reading and other educational hobbies
When a child plays excessively, he is less interested in other hobbies that make him develop intellectually such as reading a variety of books and engaging in creative activities or other skills he would need in the future.
Some kids who lead stressful lives find escape in a game’s imaginary world. By escaping, the kids are prevented from facing their problems and finding solutions, which is an important life skill to develop while young.
What can you do as parents?
Communicate with your child
Explain why you are worried about him or her and how to help them.
Maintain consistent boundaries
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting video games to one hour per day. The main thing here is staying firm on the time limit and creating balanced consequences for exceeding the time limit.
Make game time a reward
Make your child’s gaming time contingent to his actually fulfilling or failing a goal. For example, you can allow your child to play on school days if he maintains a certain grade, but if not, he can only play on weekends. Or allow your child to play only if he has done his chores.
Put the game console in common areas rather than your child’s bedroom. Most games are created to be addictive so children easily get immersed in them. Use timers or set alarms to indicate finish time. These days you can easily monitor time spent on a particular game in the week and show your child the visual report, so if there is excess use, it acts as a wake-up call.
Provide alternatives to gaming
Spend time with your children and introduce them to alternatives to video-gaming, which may include board games, joining a library, physical sports, learning a new hobby or going out with friends.
Seek help from a psychologist or psychiatrist to help with strategies to cut down on usage or explore if there is an underlying condition like ADHD or social anxiety that makes them vulnerable to addiction.
(The writer is Head-Client Care (Psychiatrist), Mpower.)