Video games are becoming increasingly popular and more accessible in households across the US. When it comes to the well-being of teens, we often wonder the effects of continuing to remain “plugged in”. In the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), video game addiction is not yet included which makes it more difficult for families when their may be problematic behaviors and making it more difficult for clinicians to diagnose. In July of 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed extreme gaming or “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition.
Loss of interest in activities: Your child may consistently prioritize video games over spending time with friends, family, or other hobbies. This may further include isolation from family and peer groups and show a disinterest in hobbies they once enjoyed. Additionally, school performance could be a major area in which a child disengages. Your child may be falling asleep in class or disengaging in school all together.
“Withdrawal” symptoms: If parents attempt to restrict video game time, teens may demonstrate symptoms of withdrawal such as anger outbursts, irritability, anxiety, impatience, or lying to cover up the amount of time spent on screens.
Displaying feelings of depression or anxiety when unable to play video games: Your teen may be eager awaiting a next gaming session or agitated if a “server is down” or they are unable to play video games.
Loss of hygienic or self-care practices: Your teen may stay up late at night, getting less sleep or maybe not changing clothes due to “absorption in the game”. The may also be skipping meals, eating while playing, trying to escape responsibilities or avoiding emotions and stress. These all can have an impact on a teens overall well-being.
Inability to quit: Perhaps your teen has tried to stop but has been unable to. Any efforts to discontinue or decrease use has been unsuccessful and your child plays at the same or increased rate.
If you suspect your teen may be struggling with video game addiction, do not open the subject by banning video games all together. That may lead to a teen feeling more isolated, potentially withdraw more, or become more irritable. Instead, potentially asking your teen non-accusatory questions surrounding what they could be getting out of their video game use or if they have any concerns about their own use. Objectively, you can also voice your own concerns.
Additionally, addiction of any form most likely will need the assistance of professional help. A first step could include finding your teen a therapist that specializes in addiction, in order to make an assessment and help support your teen and family.