Gaming Addiction Indicators in Children

Having a ‘Gaming Addiction’ or thinking that someone close to you has a gaming addiction is a serious issue. To enable us to answer a question such as is my child addicted, we firstly need to ask ourselves some very specific questions that will help establish the likelihood that they are addicted or not. It is also imperative that as parents and carers that we check that we are helping and not adding to the problem. It is not often known that the gaming industry employs Psychologists to help them design games. The industry wants to make them very appealing, hard to put down, a need to keep playing etc. The most effective way of doing this is to reward our brain for playing. We in turn get a ‘good’ feeling. We know this as research tells us that during playing time the brain naturally releases rewarding chemicals. It can be similar to what we might feel when we get excited, or when we dance or win a race and so on. Many of the most addictive games, set off this brain reward system. Which at least initially for many people can make you feel good. For example if you go up a level in a game, you can feel ‘good’ you have achieved something. You have beaten something. Conversely the less rewarding games (for the brain) have been proven to be easier to put down. With prolonged and excessive play other things begin to happen to the brain. It is hard to maintain the ‘feel good’ factor with time it can turn to depression, lethargy, irritability and even in extreme cases aggression.

Lets then have a look at some of the most acknowledged indicators as to whether someone has an ‘addiction’ to gaming and whether we are contributing to the problem. The more you can identify within the following article; the more it will be an indicator, that there may be a significant problem.

Time Spent Gaming

If your child often turns to video games at the first available moment, for example, as soon as they get in from school or just in from playing out or immediately after dinner etc. If on an average weekday your child spends more than 4-6 hours ‘gaming’ on-line or via video this indicates a problem and if in addition at weekends more than 5 hours each day is played this will most likely be addictive behaviour. For behaviour to be classed as addictive it would need to be on a frequent and regular basis and not as a one off session. If it was a few times a week then it may be a moderate to serious problem that could develop into an addiction. We all at times might indulge in something we love doing for an extended length of time occasionally, this is not addiction. 

If you have tried to reduce your child's behaviour because you are worried about overuse on four or more occasions, then there may well be a problem. If you believe that without parental limits your child would play more than they do now, this is also a sign of potential problems. If your child has ever exceeded 7 hours non-stop gaming, it is time to be concerned.

If you believe or know through experience that your child could not give up gaming for a whole week without major behavioural issues, such as temper tantrums, or sneaking the controls back then they may have a problem. Although with regard to much younger children, a temper tantrum might be there normal way of getting round you with any thing they cant have. 

If they are not being honest with you about their gaming use then that to may be another sign that they are playing excessively. If your child is honest with you even if you are unhappy with the behaviour, it is always good to remain calm and reward honesty from a child, but not with more gaming time.  Never, never reward a child with problem gaming, with more gaming time.

Access To Games

If your child has access to computer games in their bedroom this will increase their temptation to play more frequently. Remember the people who make these games make them hard to put down, because the brain is being rewarded. It draws them deeper into the game, all trace of time is lost. Another sign to look for is irritability or anxiety in your child if the computer is not working, or if a favourite game is lost or mislaid. This is why banning your child from the computer for days on end can creates such a reaction, often verbally aggressive outbursts in a child who is a frequent user. 

Spending most or all of their money on buying games or subscribing to games online, is normally a clear sign of a problem and if they begin to sell possessions especially if it is lots of possessions then they will most likely have a serious problem.

Effects of Excessive Gaming

Excessive gaming for hours on end or late into the night will create children who are always tired in the mornings. When you try and discuss it with them another indicator will be if your child is almost always angry or defensive when you ask them about their gaming use. A child who looses all interest in things outside the home in favour of gaming will have a problem. Particularly if they spend much of their non-playing time talking on-line with friends about gaming. Another sign is do they only read books, magazines or articles that relate to gaming. 

Effects On Schooling

If you allow your child to play video games before they do homework on a regular basis, this will add to the problem. If you are seeing that your child’s grades or school work are being affected as a direct result of the affects of gaming and not some other problem that you are unaware of such as bullying, or low self esteem etc and in addition they have no interest in school clubs or school activities. This could be a sign that gaming is affecting their ability to learn.

If however your child is achieving well at school it is unlikely that they will have a gaming addiction problem.

Effects On Work

We are talking older children here. If your son or daughter is holding down a part time or regular job, then they are much less likely to have a gaming problem. 

Effects on Friendships

If your child prefers to play alone rather than go out with friends, this can be an indicator of a potential problem. If they have only ‘gaming friends’, this can be another indicator, that all is not well.  However bare in mind that your lifestyle may be contributing to the situation. Increasingly families are more home based and IT based, Laptops, Tablets, Smart Phones, even adults have friendships that are often on-line or via the mobile. If your child is significantly isolating themselves from friends and family, particularly if this is very different behaviour to normal for them, it might be a sign that something else is also bothering them. Computer games are sometimes an escape from other issues. A gentle word at a time that is right for ‘them’ might be helpful.

Personal Effects On Children

Some children who are addicted to gaming take much less care of themselves. Signs to look for are a significant lack of hygiene or personal care, or a significant disinterest in eating. Alternatively they may choose to eat almost all their meals whilst playing, away from the family.

Other signs to look out for are frequent; headaches, red eyes, sore fingers, wrist pain, especially if you notice this after gaming.

Family Members

If other family members or reliable close friends have a concern about your child’s amount of gaming time it could be an early warning. Although be aware of generational differences.

As Parents

If you more often than not let your child decide which games they will buy, this will most likely lead to problems. If you are not mindful of age limits for games such as 18 plus games they may purchase and play games that influence a brain that is still developing, still making neural pathways. Remember the game makers build in elements that are highly addictive. Children are less able to comprehend this fact. If you allow your child a free rein with your credit card details then you are potentially setting both of you and your child up for a serious problem and big bills.

Do you allow children to make their own arrangements to play on-line at any hour of the day? Some games will allow them to play with other gamers (people) in other parts of the world on a completely different time zone. If you regularly find them on-line in the middle of the night it’s a sign that things are not okay. It’s the parent who should be making the rule here not the child.

Your Child

They may simply tell you they have a problem with gaming and that it is affecting them. That is a strong indicator that its time to sit down with your child and listen and chat. As parents we need to do more of the listening and encourage the child to do more of the talking. That way around if a child is able to find a workable solution for themselves to their problem, it is more effective than an imposed solution, although an imposed solution is sometimes the only way of course. However with an ‘addicted’ child it will be very difficult to carry out and professional help will most likely be needed.

If in reading this article you recognise that most of the points raised relate to your child, don't beat yourself up we are all constantly learning as parents, please seek professional help with someone who has experience in Gaming Addiction. There are also some good articles on-line about Gaming Addiction, how to recognise it and how to respond to it. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 0EY
Written by Shane Ibbs, Counselling, Adults, Young People, Children.
Chelmsford, Essex, CM2 0EY

Hello and thank you for reading my profile.  I have over 23 years experience of working therapeutically with people, with a very wide range of personal issues.  I firmly believe that having someone independent to talk to, in a confidential space, is one of the most helpful things that we c...

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