In general, our society spends an excessive amount of time staring at screens throughout the day. So, after closing up the day’s work or schoolwork, is it okay to spend hours gaming with friends? When video-game life replaces real-life with family and friends, is it a sign of addiction? In this COVID pandemic, the question remains now more relevant than ever — how much is too much?

Gaming problems: who’s at risk?

Why is gaming so appealing? First, let me say that playing video games is a fun and normal part of being a kid. However, there are a small number of kids who have a hard time controlling the time they spend gaming. And let’s be honest, there are plenty of adults out there with the same problem.

Researchers have been studying gaming habits and are learning more about who is high-risk for ‘unhealthy gaming’ and why. During a 6-year study, they noticed that about 10% of adolescents had symptoms of unhealthy gaming that got worse over time.

Research suggests that video gaming is like gambling in that it targets and activates the reward systems in the brain.

What is unhealthy gaming?

There is no official diagnosis for gaming disorder in the United States, but it will not belong. The World Health Organization (WHO) does recognize “gaming disorder” as an official condition. In countries like South Korea and China, there are already treatment programs in place to help people hooked on gaming. Here are some things you might notice with unhealthy gaming habits.

  • The individual is obsessed with gaming and is sad, irritable, or anxious when gaming is taken away.
  • He or she wants more and more gaming and is not able to cut down or quit.
  • He or she is no longer interested in other activities they used to enjoy.
  • They lie about how much time they spend gaming.
  • He or she uses gaming to relieve a bad mood.

How can families avoid unhealthy gaming?

  • Have a family media plan.
  • Keep gaming in common areas.
  • Play games along with them and set a good example.
  • Focus on real-world games for younger children. Encourage them to play with tangible toys, books, crayons, etc.

Parents should set a good example and seek help for yourself if you need it. Adults hooked on gaming are also more prone to depression. Distracted parents often miss clues that their child needs attention and/or respond more harshly. Excessive gaming can cause you to miss important moments with your child, and it definitely makes it harder to convince your child not to spend too much time gaming.

Please remember, most children and teens who play video games do not become addicted. When gaming starts to get in the way of other parts of life, please step in early. Talk with your physician or counselor if your efforts are unsuccessful.

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