Recognizing the signs of an addiction to gamingHow can you know whether your teen is truly addicted to gaming or just enjoys spending more time doing things he wants than focusing on homework? The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that a gaming addiction or disorder is, in fact, a mental health concern. Several studies have been conducted that demonstrate the seriousness of this addictive behavior. As is the case with other addiction types, there are several warning signs of an addiction to games. Some of the signs that parents can be on the lookout for may include the following.
- Isolation from family and friends so that the focus can be strictly on time spent gaming.
- Staying up all night to play games.
- Being irritable or restless when not able to play games.
- Getting angry with parents or others who may try to keep them from accessing their games.
- Avoiding telling the truth about how much time is being spent playing games. Or outright lying about it.
- Appearing preoccupied with gaming, when they can next get online to play, and thinking of nothing else but gaming.
- Low energy or falling asleep at school due to playing all night instead of sleeping.
- Headaches and migraines, often due to eye strain stemming from too much time in front of a screen.
- Changes in personal appearance could include weight loss, weight gain, and personal hygiene.
- Cramping in hands and arms due to excessive time using a gaming controller.
What makes games so addictive for teens?Gaming studios are wise. To stay relevant and keep selling games, upgrades, and attracting fickle gamers, gaming studios take extra steps to ensure that they are creating engaging games that keep players wanting to come back. What may seem mindless and silly to you may be incredibly fun and engaging for a teen who has spent hours building his character in a game. Another consideration is that the human brain is hard-wired to seek rewards and good feelings. When teens unlock new levels or complete a boss level, they get that same rush of endorphins often felt with substance abuse. That sense of accomplishment and exhilaration of feeling good can lead a teen down the road to seeking out more. More levels to unlock, more quests to complete, more of everything that makes them feel good. Parents cannot discount the social element of many games, particularly online games that allow teens to interact with others who share their enjoyment and passion for the game. The gaming community is significant, with many even making a decent living simply streaming their gameplay. The gaming culture is not always a healthy one, despite it being a good way for socially struggling teens to make like-minded friends. It can lead to academic concerns, problems with relationships, acting out, and anger, and also can ultimately lead to additional addictive concerns. Some teens may turn to drugs to help them stay awake while they play to achieve their following gaming goals.
What if your teen doesn’t want help?It is the rare addict who can recognize that he has a problem before he has sunk to his lowest point. Many teens with a gaming addiction may believe that they are not addicted but just avid gamers. They may think that you, the parent, who has the problem. Denial is a common factor when it comes to addictions of all types. Your teen may be in denial and refuse any kind of help. If faced with a teen reluctant to get help and walk away from his games, you will need to recognize that excessive gaming can alter your teen’s brain. While studies have demonstrated some benefits to playing games, it's an entirely different concern once it becomes an addictive force in your teen’s life. At this point, it is up to parents to intervene and get their teen the correct type of treatment for this addictive behavior.
Getting help for a gaming addictionParents may feel lost, helpless, and alone as they try to navigate getting their teens the correct type of help and treatment for a gaming addiction. Perhaps one of the first steps parents can take is recognizing that the video games themselves are not inherently evil. They are quite often not the root cause of the addictive behavior. It’s important to note that most addictions, whether drugs, alcohol, gambling, or gaming, are being used to replace something that is missing in the life of the addict. Your teen may be struggling in other areas of his life, and gaming has become his coping mechanism of choice. Parents can take a few steps to help teens with gaming addiction:
- Help educate the addicted teen about the pitfalls of an addiction to gaming.
- Set limits and create a healthy home structure that will encourage your teen to step away from the consoles for a few hours a day.
- Learn more about the games themselves. Not only does this give you an entry point to conversations with your teen but it will help you to better understand what is going on inside of the gaming environment.
- Track your teen’s gaming time. Don’t try to cut him off entirely, as this could backfire on you and lead him to try and sneak more time when he should be at school or sleeping.
- Get your teen into therapy, both individual and group sessions. Group sessions may help him recognize that his experiences aren’t wholly unique when he meets other teens who struggle.